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Group Membership & Social Networking

Many studies from around the world have found that membership in associations or informal social groups correlates with positive civic attitudes (including trust and efficacy); with knowledge of public affairs; and with a willingness to vote and otherwise participate. CIRCLE seeks to understand the patterns and causes of young people's membership today. We will also probe the relationship between various types of membership and civic outcomes.

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Building Social Capital Among Youth Union Members

CIRCLE grantees Nancy Brown Johnson and Paul Jarley recently published an article in Transfer: The Quarterly of the European Trade Union Institute for Research, Education and Health and Safety. The article is on building social capital among youth union members. Below is the abstract from the article. To download the complete article click here.

Jarley (2005) recently proposed a model of social capital unionism that contends that unions should strive to recreate the dense communities of the past by systematically creating social networks among workers. Underlying this approach is the notion that sustained personal contacts with members are necessary to generate the generalised reciprocity norms that mobilise workers in times of need and sustain unions in periods of relative calm. This paper describes one union’s attempt at social capital building among their young members. We also report on survey results that suggest that building social capital is challenging but potentially rewarding as dense social networks are correlated with union knowledge which in turn is correlated with increased union participation as well as community and political engagement.

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Youth Sports: A Boost for Democracy?

A CIRCLE Fact Sheet explores the effect that sports participation can have on the civic engagement of young people. The research finds that young people who are involved in sports report higher levels of voting, volunteering and engagement in their community than those who do not participate.

In particular, the data show that young people who participated in sports activities during their high school years were more likely than non-sports participants to have:

  • Volunteered (32 percent vs. 21 percent),
  • Registered to Vote (58 percent vs. 40 percent),
  • Voted (44 percent vs. 33 percent in 2000), and
  • Followed News Closely (41 percent vs. 26 percent)

Additionally, a CIRCLE Working Paper by Robert Fullinwider entitled "Sports, Youth and Character: A Critical Survey" looks at the effects of participation on youth from age 4 to 18. While Fullinwider finds conflicting analyses and a dearth of reliable, data-driven research on the role sports play in character development, studies do point to some links between sports and positive outcomes like higher levels of college attendance, fewer drop-outs, and more parental involvement.

Download the press release here.

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This report examines the contributions State Students Associations (SSAs)-- networks of college and university student governments--have made to the field of youth civic engagement. In addition, the report identifies characteristics of highly successful associations, and provides recommended ways that SSAs may be used to engage more students in future years.

A companion report, "Guide to State Student Associations" catalogues and describes the SSAs that are currently in orperation as well as provides contact information for key staff. Both reports received funding from CIRCLE and were written by the Student Empowerment Training Project.

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A CIRCLE Fact Sheet shows that on average, young people join fewer groups than adults and are more likely to be members of sports clubs, literary or arts organizations, and Internet groups than adults ages 31 and up. This Fact Sheet, entitled Group Membership and Group Involvement Among Young People, presents a comprehensive overview of group membership among different generations.

Another CIRCLE Fact Sheet, Characteristics of Group Membership Among Young People, shows that on the whole, politically liberal 18-30 year-olds belong to more groups than politically conservative or politically middle-of-the-road 18-30 year-olds. The Fact Sheet presents information on group memberships among young people. In particular, differences in political ideology, race and ethnicity, gender and educational attainment among young group members are examined.

A literature review by Mary Kirlin summarizes over 30 studies on the role of adolescent extracurricular activities in adult political engagement.

For the link between extracurricular activities and later civic engagement, please see this Child Trends report.