Abstract

Education is usually the most important predictor of political and social engagement. Over the last half century, educational levels in the United States have risen sharply, yet levels of political and social participation have not. Norman Nie, Jane Junn, and Kenneth Stehlik-Barry (NJS-B) have offered an elegant resolution to this paradox based on a distinction between the relative education having positive effects on participation. Using a broad range of evidence, including the data used by NJS-B, this paper shows that increases in average education levels improve trust and do not reduce participation levels. The contrast with the NJS-B participation results is found to be due to the definition of the educational environment. We use a changing regional comparison group, theoretically preferable to NJS-B's static national measure. Our results point to a more optimistic conclusion about the consequences of increases in average education levels, while leaving open the puzzle of sluggish participation.

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helliwell2007education
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