Cohort size matters: democracy is in danger as young people’s disenfranchisement accelerates

Young people are more affected by the outcomes of the democratic process than other cohorts; their youth means that by and large they will live with the consequences of political decisions for longer. Furthermore, young people are at a crucial life-stage – undertaking education and training, embarking on careers, forming families – where the impact of political decisions will have a decisive and cumulative effect on their socio-economic circumstances and life chances across their lifecourses. The growing power of ‘the grey vote’ appears to have had real consequences for the ability of young people to make themselves heard within the democratic process, but more worryingly, may begin to undermine the legitimacy of democracy itself.

Simply, cohort size matters. Analysis of the British Election Survey by Andy Furlong and Fred Cartmel shows that generations tend to be selfish when they get to the ballot box. That generations can act, more or less coherently, to bring about change in social structures was a proposition first put forward by Karl Mannheim in 1923. Mannheim, one of the founding fathers of modern sociology, believed that generational change was one of the main driving forces of political change.

Strangely, this key precept of the discipline of sociology seems to have been largely overlooked by the study of democracy by political scientists.

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Image: Jesse Romaneix Gosselin