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Intergenerational transmission of political engagement in immigrant families in the UK

Over one in four children under the age of 18 in the UK today are members of the “second generation”: native born but with at least one foreign born parent. Their foreign born parent(s) arrive from all over the globe, some fleeing repressive regimes, some facilitated through former colonial ties, others via earlier access to free movement within the EU. We expect that socialisation in a different political system, as well as the process of migration, settlement and naturalisation itself, should influence the political engagement of their UK raised children.

To understand the political socialisation process of this very heterogeneous group of young people, MiSoC researchers Magda Borkowska and Renee Luthra use of longitudinal data from Understanding Society which allows them to observe the political interest and voting behaviour of foreign born parents as well as the political interest and voting behaviour of their UK raised children. Understanding Society also includes a wide range of information on experiences with naturalisation, discrimination, and the living conditions of immigrant families. The researchers link this data with other sources that measure the democratic functioning of the sending country during the formative years of the immigrant parent.

The findings show that sending country democratic functioning is associated with political interest and voting behaviour among immigrant parents, but not for their UK raised children. Rather, the conditions of migration strongly influence political engagement of both the foreign born and their children: immigrants from former colonies, and those who have naturalised, are more likely to vote, as are their children, even taking into account socioeconomic differences and time since arrival. These migration related variables provide more consistently predict political engagement of the second generation than those typically used such as education or local area characteristics, suggesting that the process of political socialisation is fundamentally different in immigrant families as compared to those families without a migration background.