Are There Typical Age Curves in Political Behavior? The “Age Invariance” Hypothesis and Political Socialization

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Abstract

The acquisition and expression of political orientations are highly age-related; however, the nature of age-typical forms is rarely conceptualized in socialization research. The first part of this article examines the hypothesized nature of “age invariance” identified by criminologists in the study of deviant behavior and the inverted U-curve of voting behavior identified by political scientists. The second part uses survey data from German youth and young adults (n = 7,280, ages 13 to 30) to describe typical age patterns for various types of unconventional behavior. The more unconventional the behavior, the more the curve resembles what criminologists have long found for deviant behavior. Youth approval of the more disruptive forms of political behavior has a left-skewed age distribution that is also typical of deviant behavior. This suggests an unappealing combination of potential actionism and political ignorance occurring in late adolescence, a possibility that ought to be of consequence for the design of civic education and other interventions. From a research perspective, these age-typical patterns can be useful as a theory-building and theory-testing strategy by treating them as baselines against which individual and cultural variations can be measured.

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