The Impact of Youth Engagement on Life Satisfaction: A Quasi-Experimental Field Study of a UK National Youth Engagement Scheme

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Abstract

There is growing academic and policy interest in the role of organized social participation in clubs, associations and activities for people’s subjective well-being (SWB). However, the field remains contested. This study addresses three key questions regarding the participation-SWB link: concerns over issues of endogeneity; debate surrounding the mechanisms at work; and the role participation can play in closing inequalities in SWB. Each of these questions is addressed through a quasi-experimental field study into the impact of a large-scale, nationally-implemented youth engagement scheme (the UK National Citizen Service) on life satisfaction, conducted among the 2015 summer cohort of participants. Using pre-test/post-test data on a sample of participants and (propensity-score matched) controls, evidence suggests discrete periods of youth engagement can lead to significant improvements in life satisfaction, observable at least 4-6 months after involvement ended. Youth engagement can also work to close social inequalities in SWB by exerting a significantly stronger impact on life satisfaction among young people from more economically disadvantaged communities. Although young people from disadvantaged communities join the scheme with lower SWB, post-participation, they have entirely closed the gap in SWB with their less-disadvantaged peers. Improvements in SWB emerge from positive impacts of participation on both social- and psychological-resource pathways. However, stronger positive impacts of participation on psychological-resources become increasingly important for explaining the additional SWB-gains among more disadvantaged young people.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Sociological Review
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2 Nov 2020

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Cathie Marsh Institute

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