Where You Grow Up Shapes Your Political Behavior: Evidence from Childhood Moves
Title: Where You Grow Up Shapes Your Political Behavior: Evidence from Childhood Moves
Abstract:Does the neighborhood where an individual grew up have a persistent effect on their political identity and voting behavior in adult life? To answer this question, we track households that relocate across areas to assess the extent to which individuals' probability of voting and affiliating with a political party mirrors the average behavior in their childhood neighborhoods. In doing so, we address a pervasive theme in social science: the relative influence of the local environment versus family and innate characteristics on political socialization. Linking young people in nationally comprehensive voter file data to external data on their parents' addresses and moves, we reconstruct these individuals' childhood location histories. We estimate the causal effects of childhood environment on future political behavior by comparing the participation and partisanship of individuals who moved from similar origins to similar destinations before turning 18, but at different ages. We show that children who move at a younger age and spend more time in their destination county are more influenced by the average voting behavior in that county. Spending their entire childhood (18 years) in a county where permanent residents end up 10 percentage points more Republican (Democrat) makes voters 1.4 (1.8) percentage points more likely to register as a Republican (Democrat) themselves. The influence of one’s childhood environment on participation and registration is slightly larger still.