Published in the journal Sociology, the study uses data from a longitudinal study of almost 7,000 British people born in 1970. It is the first of its kind to follow a group of people over decades to quantify how private or state education affected their voting behaviour and their political attitudes by midlife.
Overall, the study found that, by age 42, those with a private school education were twice as likely be consistent Conservative voters - defined as voting for the party in three or four out of four consecutive General Elections (1997, 2001, 2004 and 2010). This was found to be the case even after controlling for variables including socio-economic background and academic achievement.
They were also found to be one and half times more likely to hold right-wing opinions bv age 42 as those who were state educated, as measured in 2012 by asking them how much they disagreed with statements that ’government should redistribute income’, that ’big business benefits the owners at the expense of the workers’ and ’there’s one law for the rich and one for the poor’.
However, the effect was different across gender, with privately educated men more likely to vote Conservative than privately educated women. Yet whist private education had little effect on the likelihood of men holding right-wing views, the effect upon women’s views was much larger.
Additionally, the team found that those with a degree were less likely to vote Conservative - but were not more or less likely to hold right-wing views. The authors note that, overall, possession of a degree mediates the effect of private schooling on the tendency to vote Tory.
The evidence for these effects was found to be over and above the combined influence of parental income, education, and social class.
Study co-author Professor Richard Wiggins (UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education & Society) said: "Our study shows that private schooling in the mid-1980s is directly linked to later voting for the Conservative party and expressing right-wing views in adulthood for both men and women. Interestingly, this correlation cannot be attributed to factors such as family background."
To establish their findings, the researchers used data from 6,917 nationally representative people born in England and Wales during one week in 1970 who have been taking part in the UCL-hosted 1970 British Cohort Study.
Of the sample, 3.0% (3.3% of men and 2.8% of women) attended a private primary school before beginning their secondary schooling. At secondary school 6.2% (6.8% of men and 5.7% of women) attended a private school.
The researchers say they were investigating a type of "peer effect", whereby attitudes and assumptions are absorbed from other pupils and sometimes from teachers. They noted the importance of their findings in the context of studies that highlight the elevated proportions of private school alumni in positions of public influence.
The study authors say that the relationship between British private schools and politics is evidenced by the fact that a disproportionate number of Conservative MPs were privately educated - 41% - compared to 7% of the general population, and 14% of Labour MPs. They add that over half of junior government ministers and a third of chairs of FTSE 100 companies in Britain were also privately educated.
The authors note that a unique strength of their investigation is that it is based on longitudinal evidence for the same group of individuals measured over time, where there was access to information on voter choice across four consecutive General Elections from 1997 to 2010.
Kate Corry(0)20 3108 6995
Email: k.corry [at] ucl.ac.uk
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