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The Electoral Participation of Diverse Canadian Youth in the 2015 Federal Election

2. The Socio-Demographic Profiles of Diverse Youth

In order to explore the reasons behind the differences in voter turnout, the report first compares the socio-demographic characteristics of different youth subgroups. Socio-demographic variables, such as gender, education, income, occupation, visible minority status, and immigration status, are known to have a significant impact on electoral behaviour (Verba et al. 1995, Gallego 2007, Blais and Loewen 2011). Table 2 presents bivariate relationships linking socio-demographics and subgroups of youth. Socio-demographic characteristics are compared between subgroups of youth, defined by living environment, Aboriginal status, visibly minority status, disability status, and occupational status.

Aboriginal Status

Overall, Aboriginal youth are slightly younger and have a higher residential mobility compared to non-Aboriginal youth. But most notably, Aboriginal youth have significantly lower levels of socio-economic resources than non-Aboriginal youth, as measured by income, education, and occupation. The income gap is fairly large: 71.1% of Aboriginal youth between 18 and 34 years old report a household income inferior to $40,000, compared to 44.4% of non-Aboriginal Canadian youth. Aboriginal youth also display lower levels of educational attainment: 33% of them have a high school diploma or less, compared to a proportion of 22.8% of non-Aboriginal youth with similar levels of education. Finally, Aboriginal youth are more likely to be students and to have moved in the past year, and less likely to be employed, compared to non-Aboriginal youth, which may partly explain the income gap.

Visible Minority Status

When we turn to the profile of visible minority youth, we can find that this group has a distinctive socio-demographic profile. They report the highest levels of educational attainment among all youth subgroups, and are much less likely to have a high school diploma or less (18.6%) than non-visible-minority youth (23.2%). However, they report lower levels of household income and are less likely to be employed, compared to non-visible-minority youth, which may be partly explained by experiences of discrimination in the job market. Visible minority youth are generally younger and are less likely to be married and to have children, but they are substantially more likely to be born outside of Canada, compared to non-visible-minority youth.

Occupational Status

As indicated earlier, there are large differences in electoral participation of unemployed youth, students, and employed youth. The lower level of participation of unemployed youth might be partly related to their lower levels of education and household income. Of unemployed youth, 41.2% report having a high school diploma or less, and 61% have a household income inferior to $40,000. Unemployed youth are also slightly younger, less likely to be born in Canada, and less likely to be married, compared to employed youth.

Although there was no significant turnout gap between students and employed Canadians aged 18 to 34, students present a different socio-demographic profile than employed youth. Canadian students report higher levels of educational attainment, with a greater proportion of them having some university education (53.1%) compared to employed youth (45%). However, they report lower levels of household income (mainly due to the fact that they study and no longer live with their parents) than employed youth. Finally, they are younger, less likely to be born in Canada and to be married and to have children, and they experience greater residential mobility compared to their employed counterparts.

Living Environment

Table 2 compares the socio-demographic profiles of youth living in rural or small town communities (i.e. with a population less than 10,000 inhabitants) with youth living in more urban areas. Rural youth are generally younger, more likely to have children, and more likely to be born in Canada than urban youth. But most notably, youth living in rural areas, on the whole, have significantly lower levels of educational attainment (only 37% have some university education) and lower levels of income (49.4% have a household income inferior to $40,000), compared to youth living in urban areas.

Table 2: Socio-Demographic Characteristics of Different Youth Subgroups
Visible minority status Occupational
Aboriginal Non-Aborig. • Visible minority Non-vis.- min. • Unemployed Student Employed • Rural Urban • With a disability No disab. •
Household income
(% less than $40,000)
71.1*** 44.4 51.8** 43.9 61.0*** 77.9*** 36.3 49.4* 43.7 74.4*** 44.4
Married (%) 26.9 35.6 23.1*** 38.1 19.8*** 12.5*** 42.2 38.0 34.5 20.0** 35.9
Children (%) 25.7 22.0 15.6*** 23.2 17.6 5.5*** 27.1 28.4*** 20.5 11.4** 22.6
Residential mobility
(% moved in past year)
57.0** 42.2 38.7 43.4 43.9 51.4*** 40.5 42.6 42.6 43.7 42.9
Not born in Canada (%) 5.5* 12.4 36.8*** 6.5 18.6* 15.2** 10.8 5.9*** 13.7 6.6 12.4
Gender: male (%) 42.3 51.0 44.3** 52.0 55.8 49.3 50.7 42.4*** 53.2 45.3 50.8
Age (mean) 25.1* 26.1 25.0*** 26.3 26.0* 22.3*** 27.08 25.4*** 26.3 24.9 26.1
Education (% highest degree)
High school or less 33.0* 22.8 18.6* 23.2 41.2*** 24.6 22.1 26.8* 40.8 21.2 23.4
Post-secondary 23.9 30.7 23.8 31.3 28.7 22.2*** 32.8 36.2** 28.7 33.6 30.2
University 43.1 46.5 55.9 44.6 26.7*** 53.1** 45.0 37.0*** 49.4 45.1 46.4
Occupational status
Unemployed (%) 3.6 3.4 2.9 3.4 - - - 2.3 3.7 9.5*** 3.2
Student (%) 38.2*** 20.5 33.3*** 18.8 - - - 22.3 20.9 37.1*** 20.6
Employed (%) 58.2*** 76.1 64.1*** 77.8 - - - 75.3 75.4 53.3*** 76.2
Minimum n 97 2141 357 1837 64 452 1817 492 1715 90 2145

Note: Canadian youth aged 18 to 34.

Statistically significant differences: *** p<.001; ** p<.01; * p<.05 (reference category: •)

Disability Status

Finally, Table 2 compares the socio-demographic characteristics of youth who have a disability (or disabilities) and of youth with no disability. Youth with disabilities are generally less likely to be married and have children, and they count relatively more students and unemployed youth, compared to the 18- to- 34-year-olds without disabilities. While there are no differences in educational attainment between the two groups, youth with disabilities are much more likely to report lower levels of income (74.4% have a household income inferior to $40,000).

We note that the different youth groups present quite distinctive socio-demographic profiles and have different life circumstances. However, we found that Aboriginal, visible minority, rural, unemployed youth, students, and youth with disabilities all displayed comparatively lower levels of income. And in general, these groups displayed a comparative disadvantage, either in education or employment (or both). The generally lower levels of socio-economic resources of these youth groups would tend to explain why they are less likely to vote in elections (Verba et al. 1995). Students tend to be an exception here. Previous studies suggest that students turn out at relatively high rates compared to other youth (Gélineau 2013). Certain socio-demographic variables might also have a different meaning for students. For instance, students did not finish their education; hence, education levels do not always mirror the education levels they will ultimately obtain. Also, residential mobility might not have the same meaning for students. If students are not living with their parents, it is very likely that they lived at their location for a brief period of time. Additionally, family income tends to carry a different meaning for students, depending on whether they live with their parents or not (Niemi and Hanmer 2010). We will test the meaning of the socio-demographic characteristics for voter turnout of the different youth subgroups in the last section, in the multivariate model.