Beyond Socioeconomic Status (SES)

Henery Brady, Sidney Verba, and Kay Lehman Scholzman

Beyond Ses: A Resource Model of Political ParticipationAPSR,  June 1995.

Research question:

Brady, Verba, and Scholzman attempt to develop a better model for understanding political participation to show how the importance of a resource depends on the particular activity. They use three main resources: time, money, civic skills, and go beyond the traditional SES model and break it down to sub components: education, income, and occupation. The goal is to determine why some individuals are more active than others but also why certain types of people partake in certain types of political activities.


Their data comes from a large, two-stage survey of voluntary activities of the public. The first stage was a phone interview, the second stage was an in-person interview with a subset of the original participants in the phone interview.


Time was measured by the ‘free’ time available for political activity after accounting for the hours spent at work, house cleaning, sleeping, etc. Money was measured by the family income from all sources in units of 10,000. Civic skills, because they can be acquired in non-political settings, such as church, was broken down into various measures: educational attainment questions, educational experience question (did you participate in a high school student government), testing of language ability (English, English and another language, or another language), questions about involvement in church or organization where s/he had engaged in letter writing, gone to a meeting, chaired a meeting, given a speech.


They break down their findings into three kinds of activities: voting, acts requiring investment of money, and acts requiring investment of time. With respect to voting, political interest has the most substantial impact on voting with free time and citizenship being significant as well (283). Civic skills have less of an impact and income has no impact on voting (283).  Brady et. al. conclude that education, typically deemed the most important factor of voting, is “funneled entirely through political interest” (283).

Acts requiring the investment of money show that the major determinate is having money in order to give money as well as years of education mattering (283), which makes sense seeing how generally speaking as the level of education increases, so too does income. Free time nor civic skill seem to matter with respect to giving money (283).

Acts requiring an investment of time show that political interest, civic skills, and free time significantly matter, but family income does not. Other factors that seem to matter are adult civic skills used in non-political institutions and participation in high school government while education has a weak impact. “Roughly speaking, each additional hour of free time per day lead to about one-third more hour of political activity per week” (284).

Brady et al conclude that education affects political participation in two ways: “education instills political interest and participatory motivations; for others, especially those that require time, education leads to skills that facilitate activity” (284-285).

Application to field:

Their model goes beyond the commonly used SES model in two ways. The model creates the mechanism that links SES to participation and it creates an understanding of the activity disparities among groups (285). Brady et. al. attempt to go beyond the SES model to better explain why certain people engage in particular activities with respect to politics. However, their conclusions with respect to voting seemed to challenge the common notion that education is the number one factor in determining the vote. While they do suggest that political interest is gained via education, it appears that they are offering a different answer to the question: What determines the vote? Aside from this, they seem to shed light on other areas of political participation in that they offer suggestions as to what factors influence political participation. This research should be helpful in determining what legislation is salient to unique and different voters, thereby illuminating normative party commitments.


2 thoughts on “Beyond Socioeconomic Status (SES)

  1. Pingback: Poltical Scientists: “I’m American” | Political Pipeline

  2. Pingback: Review for American Politics Comp. Exams | Political Pipeline

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