The Impact of Education on the Development of Political Trust: Results from a Five-Year Panel Study among Late Adolescents and Young Adults in Belgium



There is a strong ongoing debate about the impact of higher education experiences on political attitudes and behaviours. While some authors assume a direct socialisation effect of educational experience, others have argued that education should be seen as a mere proxy variable for socio-economic status and pre-adult socialisation experiences. In this article we use a 5-year Belgian panel study that tracked respondents between the ages of 16 and 21. Using a hierarchical linear model of repeated measurements, we are able to demonstrate that differences with regard to political trust between future students and non-students are already present and stable at the age of sixteen. Significant determinants were school track and educational goal. The inclusion of actual educational status in the model (at age 21), however, rendered the relation with educational goal not significant. The results suggest that during secondary education students already anticipate and acquire a value pattern that is congruent with their future status. Ultimately, however, this effect is dependent on whether they actually enrol in higher education or not.