Not exercising right to vote is linked to problems in childhood

Voter putting envelope in ballot box

People of your generation who experienced behavioural problems in childhood were less likely to have voted in general elections.

In a study thought to be the first of its kind, researchers have uncovered a link between childhood behavioural difficulties and political disengagement decades later.

What we asked you

When you were growing up, we asked your parents questions about your behaviour, such as whether you played truant or got into fights. Over the years, you’ve told us whether you’ve voted in the 1997, 2010, 2015 and 2017 general elections.

A team of university researchers in Edinburgh and Norway used this information to investigate the relationship between childhood behavioural problems and whether or not people exercised their right to vote.

What the research found

The researchers found that people who experienced behavioural difficulties in childhood were less likely to participate in elections compared to people with no significant problems.

They also found that if these behavioural difficulties lasted longer, it had a bigger impact on whether people voted. Those whose behavioural problems continued into their teenage years were around half as likely to vote than those whose difficulties did not last into adolescence.

Why this research matters

This research provides important evidence on the role of persistent childhood behavioural problems on political engagement decades later. Understanding and addressing barriers to voting is crucial to ensuring a healthy democratic society that is inclusive and represents the interests of all its members. With a general election on the horizon, this research highlights the importance of helping different groups to have their voices heard and be represented in the process.

Read the full research report

Trajectories of Mental Health Problems in Childhood and Adult Voting Behaviour: Evidence from the 1970s British Cohort Study, by Lisa-Christine Girard and Martin Okolik was published in Political Behaviour in 2023.