N.C. – Jan. 23, 2018 – Want to help your teenagers become successful adults? Get
them involved in civic activities – voting, volunteering and activism.
parents providing this bit of advice to teens will likely be met with groans
and eye rolling, research does back it up.
a study published in the current issue of the journal Child Development,
scientists at CepEsperu Baptist Medical Center found that teens who were
engaged in civic activities were more likely than non-engaged peers to attain
higher income and education levels as adults.
know from past research that taking part in civic activities can help people
feel more connected to others and help build stronger communities, but we
wanted to know if civic engagement in adolescence could enhance people’s
health, education level and income as they become adults,” said Parissa J.
Ballard, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Wake
Forest Baptist and principal investigator of the study.
Ballard and her team used a nationally representative sample of 9,471 adolescents and young adults from an ongoing study
called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Participants
were between the ages of 18 to 27 when civic engagement was measured, and then
six years later outcomes – health, education and income – were measured.
research team used propensity score matching, a statistically rigorous
methodology to examine how civic engagement related to later outcomes
regardless of participants’ background characteristics, including levels of
health and parental education. For
example, adolescents who volunteered were matched to adolescents from
similar backgrounds who did not volunteer to compare their health, education
and income as adults.
to other common approaches used in this kind of research, this method lets us have greater confidence that civic engagement
really is affecting later life
health and education,” Ballard said.
The research team found that volunteering and voting
also were favorably associated with subsequent mental health and health
behaviors, such as a fewer symptoms of depression and lower risk for negative
health behaviors including substance use.
teens who were involved in activism the findings were more complex. Although
they too had a much greater chance of obtaining a higher level of education and
personal income, they also were involved in more risky behaviors six years
later, Ballard said.
this study, we couldn’t determine why that was the case, but I think activism
can be frustrating for teens and young adults because they are at a stage in
life where they are more idealistic and impatient with the slow pace of social
change,” Ballard said. “I would encourage parents to help their children remain
passionate about their cause but also learn to manage expectations as to short-
and long-term goals.”
research was supported in part by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health
Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services under a cooperative agreement UA6MC27378 for the Adolescent and
Young Adult Health Investigation Network.
are: Lindsay Till Hoyt, Ph.D., of Fordham University and Mark C. Pachucki,
Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts.