Civic generation: Policy feedback effects of the GI Bill on political involvement over the life course

Suzanne Mettler, Eric Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


One of the chief explanations for the decline of social capital in the United States is the passing of the 'civic generation', those who came of age during the Depression and the Second World War. These Americans experienced greater government largesse than previous generations, yet we know little about how public programmes influenced their subsequent involvement in public life. This article draws on policy feedback theory to examine how the educational benefits of the GI Bill, through which 7.8 million Second World War veterans attended college or gained vocational training, affected recipients' political participation across three time periods, from 1950 to 1998. We find that initially, interpretive effects of programme implementation produced increased levels of participation among users generally. Later on, resource effects enhanced participation rates selectively, with the strongest effects among those who had attained the highest levels of education. Overall, the study illustrates distinct mechanisms, timing and sequencing through which public policy can shape the interests and capacities of programme recipients to engage in democratic participation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)497-518
Number of pages22
JournalBritish Journal of Political Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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