Layers of inequality: How (un-)equal regions in (un-) equal countries affect civic participation

About this Session


Thu. 11.04. 12:30



Authors – Carlotta Giustozzi,, Sven Ehmes.

Abstract :

Rising economic inequality in Western societies has spurred an extensive body of research on its social and political consequences (Wilkinson & Picket, 2009). With political alienation and populism rising in parallel, many scholars have investigated the consequences of macro-economic inequality on civic participation (Schröder & Neumayr, 2021) as citizen’s voluntary activities are said to form the basis of a democratic society and social cohesion (Putnam, 2001; Schlozman & Verba, 1979; Solt, 2008).

So far, empirical evidence documents a clear depressing effect of rising inequality on civic participation (Lancee & van der Werfhorst, 2012): The more unequal a society, the less people participate. However, a growing strand of literature pointed to the greater importance of the local economic contexts for individual participation behaviour (Lim & Sander, 2013; Bonomi Bezzo & Jeannet, 2023). Yet, the evidence of regional inequality’s effect on civic participation is inconclusive, with some studies finding a depressing effect (Lim & Sander, 2013) and others documenting a boosting effect (van Holm, 2018). We argue that this puzzle can be solved by accounting for the intertwined dynamics of economic inequality at the regional and the national level that people are experiencing simultaneously in their everyday lives. From a conflict perspective, we could expect individuals living in unequal contexts that are embedded in an equal national context to become more aware of economic disparities, mobilizing (especially less resource-rich) people to become more engaged. Drawing on the relative deprivation theory, we could instead also expect those individuals to feel disillusioned and powerless to engage less in civic activities. Therefore, we aim to shed light on the interplay of national and regional contexts in shaping individuals’ civic participation.

To investigate how the interplay of the different layers of inequality plays out for individuals’ civic participation comparatively, we rely on a novel regional inequality dataset which covers NUTS 2-regional information of up to 30 countries between 2005 and 2021, that we complement with country-level information of inequality provided by the Standardized World Income Inequality Database (Solt, 2016). We combine this macro-level dataset with individual-level survey data from the European Social Survey (waves 3-10). Using multilevel random effects within and between models, we are not only able to analyse how the different layers of inequality and their interplay affect civic participation cross-sectionally, but also to provide longitudinal evidence on how changes in inequality affect individuals’ civic participation by exploiting within-region and within-country inequality dynamics over time.