Welfare and citizenship: The effects of government assistance on young adults' civic participation

Teresa Toguchi Swartz, Amy Blackstone, Christopher Uggen, Heather McLaughlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Recent scholarship and public discourse highlight an apparent waning of civic engagement in the United States. Although the welfare state is generally thought to support democracy by reducing economic inequality, it may paradoxically contribute to political disempowerment of some groups. We examine the effects of state interventions on civic participation among young adults, hypothesizing that involvement with stigmatizing social programs, such as welfare, reduces political engagement, while receipt of nonstigmatizing government assistance does not dampen civic involvement. Using official voting records and survey data from the Youth Development Study (YDS), a longitudinal community sample of young adults, a series of regression models suggests that welfare recipients are less likely to vote than nonrecipients, whereas recipients of non-means-tested government assistance participate similarly to young adults who do not receive government help. These effects hold even when background factors, self-efficacy, and prior voting behavior are controlled. Welfare receipt is not associated, however, with suppressed participation in nonstate arenas such as volunteer work. Intensive interviews with YDS welfare recipients are used to illustrate and develop the analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)633-665
Number of pages33
JournalSociological Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2009


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