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Race, Gender, Immigrant Status

CIRCLE aims to generate research that will help include all Americans in our civic life. To this end, we are interested in special patterns and causes of civic engagement (or alienation) among racial and ethnic minorities, new immigrants, and women, among others.

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Civic Engagement: How it Differs Between Young Men and Women

A new CIRCLE Fact Sheet, "Civic Engagement Among Young Men and Women,"  shows how young men and women perform on the 19 measures of civic engagement. Generally, young men are among the most engaged in a wide range of political activities despite lower voter turnout rates, and young women are among the most engaged in civic activities such as volunteering. They are also the most likely to vote.  The Fact Sheet uses data from the 2006 Civic and Political Health of the Nation Survey, and several other sources, and provides new information on the civic engagement of youth, confidence in government, and following public affairs and the news, by gender.

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African-American Youth Trust in Government Plummets

While the majority of young African-Americans between ages 15-25 believe government should do more to solve problems, there has been a nearly 20-point increase since 2002 in the percentage of young African-Americans who say that “government is almost always wasteful and inefficient.” This shift in attitudes was also found for young people of all racial groups, though not as drastic as among African-Americans.


Despite this loss in confidence in government, African-American youth are the most politically engaged racial/ethnic group. Compared to other groups, African-Americans are the most likely to vote regularly, belong to groups involved with politics, donate money to candidates and parties, display buttons or signs, and contact the media.

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African American Inner City Teens and Civic Engagement

Research by Michelle Charles explores how young inner city African American youth define civic engagement. The ethnographic study is based on interviews with African American teenagers age 15 to 19 living in North and West Philadelphia. Interviews were also conducted with "at risk" youth serving civic engagement organizations and other adults in the community. The author argues that the concept "giving back to community" is an important component of civic engagement that has not been formally recognized. Further, she offers recommendations for youth serving civic engagement professionals working with inner city African American teenagers.

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Study Finds No Big Gender Gaps in Levels of Youth Civic Engagement

CIRCLE-funded research finds that there is no major “gender gap”
in civic engagement among today’s young people. According to Dr. Krista Jenkins, the lead researcher, “Across most of the options for participation in public life, the sexes are remarkably similar in both what they choose to do and what they tend to avoid. Although there are some interesting differences—such as rates of voluntarism and political knowledge and attentiveness— gender does not appear to be playing a significant role in
shaping civic engagement among youth.”

The research finds that generally women do not enter adulthood with tendencies that make them any less likely to be engaged citizens than men. However, there are some small differences in the development of precursors to civic engagement. For example, women are less aware of news and public affairs than their male counterparts and also know less about politics, government and the political process. On the other hand, young women lead the way in volunteering and are significantly more likely to believe that it is their responsibility, rather than their choice, to get involved to make things better for society.

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Who Volunteers for the U.S. Military?

CIRCLE Working Paper 32: Social Representation in the U.S. Military Services explores the factors that may influence a young person to join the military. The report finds that there is a positive correlation between immigration status, educational attainment and the opportunity to "get ahead" with a willingness to join the military. However, there is no correlation between a person's race and their willingness to join the military. The analysis suggests that it may be the nation's under-educated and less empowered youth who are joining the military.

The paper also suggests that there is no relationship between the factors that influence a young person's willingness to join the military and the factors that influence their willingness to pursue other community occupations such as teaching, working in law enforcement or firefighting. Finally, the research found that there September 11th did not have a strong influence on young people joining the military.

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Young Americans Most Tolerant Age Group

A new CIRCLE Fact Sheet shows that young Americans are more favorable than other age groups toward people sometimes targeted by intolerance, including gays and lesbians, racial and ethnic minorities, and immigrants. The data show that young Americans are the most tolerant age group, and this tolerance and support for diversity is increasing over time. Some key findings include:

  • 69% of 18-29 year-old voters supported gay marriage or legal civil unions for gay and lesbian couples compared to 60% of 30-44 and 45-59 year-old voters, and 54% of those 60 and older. (2004 National Election Pool, exit poll.)

  • Between 1994 and 2000, the percentage of 18-25 year-olds who agree that blacks "have gotten less than they deserve," rose 12 percentage points to 38% (National Election Survey, NES.

  • In 2002, 60% of 15-25 year olds agreed with the statement "Immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work," compared to 51% of 26-37 year-olds, 49% of 38-56 year-olds, and 42% of those 57 and over. (CIRCLE's Civic and Political Health of a Nation Survey.)

Click here to read the press release.

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How Organized Group Mentoring and Kinship Communities Encourage Sustained Civic Engagement

New research by Diann Cameron Kelly documents how young minority adults interpret civic engagement. The study included 13 economically disadvantaged, high achieving young adults between the ages of 20 and 27 who had during their childhood participated in a group mentoring program. The participants were asked to keep a detailed online reflective journal on their civic experiences from adolescences to young adulthood. Analysis of the journals suggests that kinship communities (families and caregivers) and youth mentoring programs work together to promote sustained civic engagement. These groups provide the developmental opportunities young people need in order to participate in democracy as adults. When kinship communities fail to provide examples of civic and political participation, youth mentoring organizations can serve as an additional critical resource for helping young people meet the cognitive, affective, and behavioral benchmarks that seem to result in sustained civic engagement.

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Defining the Civic Outcomes of Youth Organizations

Many youth organizations provide opportunities for older and diverse youth to be civically engaged. This research compares three types of programs: (1) youth organizing programs, (2) youth identity support programs, and (3) traditional youth programs. The research suggests that youth organizing programs are characterized by youth's experience of higher levels of youth leadership, decision making, and community involvement in comparison with other agencies in the study. In addition, the research suggests that deliberate approaches to staffing and decision-making structures can influence youth outcomes.

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Getting Out the Asian American Vote in Los Angeles County

A study by Janelle Wong examines the effectiveness of voter outreach efforts in high-density Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Indian, and Japanese American communities Los Angeles County. The research shows that the effects of phone and mail canvassing vary greatly by ethnicity and geographic area. This type of canvassing was most effective in mobilizing Chinese Americans living in West San Gabriel Valley, an active predominantly Chinese American community. In addition, the study suggests when mobilizing Asian American voters by phone and mail, it is important to address language diversity. Of those successfully contacted through this study the preference for speaking a language other than English ranged from 5% among Indian Americans to over 60% of Korean Americans.

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CIRCLE research indicates that one powerful way to address the problem of low Latino voter turnout is to return to old-fashioned personal canvassing efforts. In addition, the research suggests that Latinos are more likely to vote if contacted by another Latino than if contacted by someone of another ethnicity.

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A CIRCLE fact sheet collects data on many forms of civic engagement (from voting to philanthropy) for youth of different racial and ethnic groups. Another fact sheet analyzes the differences in political participation by gender. Information on Latino voting patterns can be found in the fact sheet Electoral Engagement Among Latino Youth.


CIRCLE's analysis of Census Bureau Current Population Survey (CPS) reports reveals the following trends in the voter turnout of young Americans:

Participation of Young African Americans Increased Until the Late 1970s, Briefly Surpassing that of Whites, but has Fallen Off Since
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Turnout of Young Hispanics has Declined Slightly
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Since 1972, Young Women Have Become More Likely to Vote than Young Men
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On gender, the following document is useful: Amy Caiazza, "Women's Community Involvement: The Effects of Money, Safety, Parenthood, and Friends," Institute for Women's Policy Research, publication #C346 (Sept. 2001). (This article is on the Website of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, www.iwpr.org, and is linked from here with permission.)