Civic engagement, tolerance and trust

Higher educational attainment is associated with greater civic engagement, tolerance and trust

Download Benefits of Educational Attainment Civic engagement, tolerance and trust

Introduction

While education and training supports well-being and prosperity through higher employment, income and wealth, research from around the world has also found that education is a powerful predictor of civic participation or engagement[1] and is associated with higher levels of ‘social capital’.[2]

Education and training helps individuals to develop their skills and knowledge and increase self-confidence. Through education, individuals develop their capacity to question and appraise information effectively, communicate ideas, interact with others and see things from different perspectives. The more education systems reflect these capabilities, the more these types of benefits can be observed.[3] Consequently, more educated people are more likely to feel able to participate in the community and this can build trust and tolerance of other people and public institutions.[4] In aggregate, these so-called non-market social benefits can lead to increased democratisation, political stability and social cohesion.[5],[6]

Civic engagement

The closest measure of civic engagement we have is participation in community, social or political groups. Consistent with Bynner et al. (2003),[4] our results show that educational attainment is positively associated with all forms of civic engagement (Figure 1). Compared with lower levels, people with higher levels of educational attainment can be two to three times more likely to be involved in a community, social or political group. These trends hold after controlling for a wide range of potential confounding factors such as age, employment, gender, country of birth, and where people live (see Data and Methodology). Higher levels of educational attainment are also positively but weakly associated with more people reporting ‘feeling able to have say on important issues within the general community’ either all of the time or most of the time.[7]

Trust in people and institutions and tolerance to multi-cultural society

According to Campbell (2006)[2], institutional and interpersonal trust is driven by both individual attainment and exposure to the educational or institutional environment. Education institutions trigger a positive feedback process, leading to a higher level of interpersonal- and institutional-trust. Consistent with other developed countries,[8] our results show evidence of positive relationships between higher levels of educational attainment and trust in society and its institutions (Figure 2). Most people reported high or very high levels of trust in police (data not shown) with a weakly positive relationship with educational attainment.[9] Reported tolerance to multicultural society also improves dramatically with educational attainment increasing from 31 to 70 per cent for Year 11 and below to Postgraduates, respectively[10].

Figure 1: Proportion of 30-64 year olds involved in community (A), social (B), civic or political (C) groups, by educational attainment, 2014
First bar graph with error bars describing the proportion of 30-64 year olds involved in community support groups by highest educational attainment in 2014. The X-axis shows the different educational attainments (Year 11 and below, Year 12, Certificates III and IV, Diploma, Undergraduate, Postgraduate). Year 11 and below has 19%, year 12 has 26%, certificate III and IV has 30%, diploma has 42%, undergraduate has 44%, and postgraduate has 50%.
Second bar graph with error bars describing the proportion of 30-64 year olds involved in social groups by highest educational attainment in 2014. The X-axis shows the different educational attainments (Year 11 and below, Year 12, Certificates III and IV, Diploma, Undergraduate, Postgraduate). Year 11 and below has 34%, year 12 has 46%, certificate III and IV has 49%, diploma has 58%, undergraduate has 64%, and postgraduate has 60%.
Third bar graph with error bars describing the proportion of 30-64 year olds involved in civic or political groups by highest educational attainment in 2014. The X-axis shows the different educational attainments (Year 11 and below, Year 12, Certificates III and IV, Diploma, Undergraduate, Postgraduate). Year 11 and below has 8%, year 12 has 14%, certificate III and IV has 11%, diploma has 17%, undergraduate has 24%, and postgraduate has 31%.

Source: General Social Survey 2014 (Cat. No. 1459.0, Microdata: General Social Survey, Australia, 2014)

Notes: Data filtered by age (30-64), not currently studying. Survey weights applied. Error bars are 95 per cent confidence intervals. Post-matching logit regression and Tukey pairwise comparison results show education is positively associated with each of the above survey responses (A: χ2=79, p<0.001; B: χ2=102, p<0.001; C: χ2=56, p<0.001).

Figure 2: Proportion of 30-64 year olds that reported high or very high levels of trust in most people (A), health care (B) and justice (C) systems, by educational attainment, 2014
First bar graph with error bars describing the proportion of 30-64 year olds that reported high or very high level of trust in most people by highest educational attainment in 2014. The X-axis shows the different educational attainments (Year 11 and below, Year 12, Certificates III and IV, Diploma, Undergraduate, Postgraduate). Year 11 and below has 50%, year 12 has 54%, certificate III and IV has 50%, diploma has 54%, undergraduate has 62%, and postgraduate has 62%.
Second bar graph with error bars describing the proportion of 30-64 year olds that reported high or very high level of trust in the health care system by highest educational attainment in 2014. The X-axis shows the different educational attainments (Year 11 and below, Year 12, Certificates III and IV, Diploma, Undergraduate, Postgraduate). Year 11 and below has 59%, year 12 has 62%, certificate III and IV has 64%, diploma has 66%, undergraduate has 75%, and postgraduate has 77%.
Third bar graph with error bars describing the proportion of 30-64 year olds that reported high or very high level of trust in the justice system by highest educational attainment in 2014. The X-axis shows the different educational attainments (Year 11 and below, Year 12, Certificates III and IV, Diploma, Undergraduate, Postgraduate). Year 11 and below has 47%, year 12 has 56%, certificate III and IV has 49%, diploma has 53%, undergraduate has 63%, and postgraduate has 71%.

Source: General Social Survey 2014 (Cat. No. 1459.0, Microdata: General Social Survey, Australia, 2014)

Notes: Data filtered by age (30-64), not currently studying. Survey weights applied. Error bars are 95 per cent confidence intervals. Post-matching logit regression and Tukey pairwise comparison results show education is positively associated with each of the above survey responses (A: χ2=63, p<0.001; B: χ2=49, p<0.001; C: χ2=62, p<0.001).

Data and metholodology

This paper uses data from the ABS General Social Survey, 2014 (Cat. No. 4159.0) where persons were aged 30 to 64 years (inclusive), resided in Australia and were not currently studying (n=6,769). Propensity score matching (PSM) using age, gender, labour force status, occupation, personal income, country of birth, family type with marital status, and number of dependent child was used to simulate a randomised control trial in the sample. The relationship between educational attainment and survey questions on civic engagement, tolerance, having a say in the community and trust were assessed by applying logit generalised linear models performed on the PSM sub-populations. This method provides the strongest possible evidence of cause and effect in cross-sectional data.

 

[1] Putnam RD (2000) Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community, Simon and Schuster, New York

[2] Social capital is broadly defined as social groups or networks that have productive benefits. Campbell DE (2006) What is education’s impact on civic and social engagement? In, Measuring the Effects of Education on Health and Civic Engagement: Proceedings of the Copenhagen Symposium, OECD, Paris, pp25-126; Hall P (1999) Social capital in Britain, British Journal of Politics 29: 417-61

[3] Paterson L (2014) Education, social attitudes and social participation among adults in Britain, Sociological Research Online 19(1): 17

[4] Bynner J, Schuller T & Feinstein L (2003) Wider benefits of education: Skills, higher education and civic engagement, Zeitschrift fur Padagogik 49 (3)

[5] A more cohesive society is one where citizens actively engage in community and social activities, report feeling able to have a say on important issues, and put trust in other individuals and social institutions; McMahon WW & Oketch M (2013) Education’s effects on individual life chances and on development: An overview, British Journal of Educational Studies 61: 79-107

[6] OECD (2013) Education Indicators in Focus – 2013/01, OECD Publishing, Paris

[7] 20 to 28 per cent; χ2=12, p=0.04

[8] OECD (2015) Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2015-en

[9] 74 to 83 per cent; χ2=29, p<0.001

[10] χ2=188, p<0.001