A MULTILEVEL ANALYSIS OF CONTEXT EFFECTS ON ADOLESCENT CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: THE ROLE OF FAMILY, PEERS, SCHOOL, AND NEIGHBORHOOD
Wilkenfeld, Britt Skeens
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The relations between multiple contexts of influence and adolescents' civic engagement were examined in order to facilitate understanding of how adolescents are being prepared for citizenship. This study extends previous research by simultaneously examining the family, peer, school, and neighborhood contexts, including how contexts are interrelated in their influence, and by employing multilevel regression techniques. The purpose of the study was to understand how contexts interact to produce positive outcomes for adolescents, especially those deemed at risk for poor civic outcomes. Utilizing data from the 1999 Civic Education Study and the 2000 U.S. Census, I examined a nationally representative sample of 2,729 14-year-olds from 119 schools in the United States. Access to the zip-codes for each school that participated in the study enabled the connection between neighborhood characteristics and schools and students within schools. Given the multifaceted nature of civic engagement, the current study considered context effects on four different aspects of civic engagement: civic knowledge, support for the rights of ethnic minorities, anticipated voting behavior, and anticipated community participation. Predictors pertain to adolescents' demographic characteristics, political discourse with parents and peers, civic experiences in school, and the demographic composition of the neighborhood. Political discourse with parents was positively related to civic knowledge, attitudes, and anticipated behavior, indicating the consistency with which socialization occurs in the home. Across the contexts examined, student measures of civic experiences in school (or civic learning opportunities) had the most consistently positive relationships with students' civic outcomes. Civic experiences in school include student confidence in the effectiveness of school participation, perception of a classroom climate that is open for discussion, and learning about ideal civic practices. Interactions between the school and neighborhood contexts indicate that higher levels of civic learning opportunities particularly make a difference for students attending schools in impoverished neighborhoods, sometimes substantially improving their civic outcomes. Schools, although implicated in the existence of a civic engagement gap, have the potential to narrow the gaps. Civic experiences in schools contribute to the preparation of youth for active citizenship and full access to these experiences reduces civic engagement gaps between students of different demographic groups.