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Journal Article

Nonpolitical versus political participation: longitudinal associations with mental health and social well‑being in different age groups


Publication date

18 Aug 2021


Drawing on public opinion and empirical research, one may advise people to participate in voluntary organizations because voluntary participation can improve their mental health and social well-being. However, do such benefits apply across different types of participation and across the life course? In this study, we investigated whether benefits to mental health and social well-being differ between nonpolitical and political participation and across age groups (preregistration is accessible at Using 25 waves of data from the British Household Panel Survey and the Understanding Society (1991–2016), we conducted multilevel analyses with observations nested within participants in younger (14–29, n = 10,536), middle-aged (40–50, n = 4,955), and older (65–75, n = 3,059) adults. We used life satisfaction and GHQ-12 scores as measures of mental health, and social support and neighborhood belonging as measures of social well-being. We found only few and small significant effects at the within-person level: On occasions when younger adults reported political participation, they reported slightly higher neighborhood belonging than when they did not. On occasions when older adults reported nonpolitical or political participation, they reported slightly higher life satisfaction than when they did not. However, we found no significant differences between nonpolitical and political participation and among age groups. In sum, our findings qualify the opinion that voluntary participation yields significant benefits to engaged individuals. We discuss potential explanations, including characteristics of political participation in the United Kingdom.

Published in

Social Indicators Research





Politics, Social Groups, Older People, Psychology, Young People, Well Being, Social Capital, Health, Life Course Analysis, and Social Behaviour


Open Access; This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit; Online Early


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