New WiSE Working Paper explores the gendered impacts of interest and confidence on young people’s engagement in political activism

New WiSE Working Paper explores the gendered impacts of interest and confidence on young people’s engagement in political activism

What keeps girls and young women from participating in political activism? Written by Dr Silvia Behrens, the current holder of the Postdoctoral Ailsa McKay Fellowship at the WiSE Centre for Economic Justice, this new working paper [DE04261 WISE BRIEFING PAPER] looks at the effects of interest and perceived confidence on young people’s political activism. This paper is based on Silvia’s PhD research on “Young people’s activism in the UK: investigating the impact of perception and identity on non-electoral participation”


Studies consistently find that women tend to report lower interest in politics than men, which may suggest that women are also less likely to become involved in political activities. Yet, some studies suggest that this ‘gender gap’ in political interest could be attributed to the framing of politics as ‘masculine’. Women report being more interested when asked about specific political and social issues. In addition to interest, there may be another issue at play: women are less likely to show strong political interest and participation due to a reduced sense of confidence in their participatory abilities. This sense of confidence, termed ‘internal efficacy’ in the research literature, refers to one’s perceived ability to understand and participate in politics.

To test how interest and internal efficacy affect young people’s activist participation, this working paper uses data from an online survey involving individuals aged 16 to 24 in the UK (N = 948, weighted sample). Adolescence marks a critical period for young people to develop confidence in political engagement, which may be significant for the emergence of such gender disparities. While young people in the study did not show significantly differing levels of activist participation, young women, once involved, tended to participate in more activities than young men. The study investigated young people’s interest in politics and social issues to discern gender-based variations in reported interest levels. Female respondents showed greater interest levels when the question was framed around social issues, while male respondents showed greater interest levels when the question aimed for a more general notion of politics.

The paper also explored how confidence in political ability (internal efficacy) affects participation in non-voting activities, revealing an interaction between gender and internal efficacy for female respondents. For young women, a higher level of internal efficacy was associated with a greater increase in non-electoral participation. For young men, this relationship was less pronounced. This means that young women are likely to refrain from participation in political activities not because of a lack of interest but because of a diminished sense of confidence. To address this issue, civic education should focus on building political confidence to encourage participation among all young people.


You can read the working paper here: DE04261 WISE BRIEFING PAPER

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