The paper, titled “Shaping the Nation: Estimating the Impact of Fourth of July Using a Natural Experiment,” examines how important childhood experiences shape political views and behavior patterns later in life by investigating the impact of youth participation in Independence Day activities and adult engagement in the political process.
“In 2010, an estimated 144 million Americans age 18 or older celebrated Fourth of July by attending a barbecue. Another 98 million watched the ﬁreworks or went to a community festivity, while more than 28 million saw a parade,” the authors write. “Beyond the immediate fervor of the festivity, however, do national day celebrations matter? Does participation in national ceremonies and parades have a deeper impact by affecting children’s political beliefs, identity, and behavior?”
Researchers face two main challenges when they examine how important formative experiences in childhood affect later-life outcomes. First, it is difficult to disentangle the causal impact of any particular experience – may it be the family, the education system, peers, or an event such as Fourth of July. Second, there is a lack of data linking childhood experiences to adult outcomes.
In their paper, the researchers use a simple but novel strategy to address these problems: they use historical data on rainfall on Fourth of July. When it rains children and their parents are less likely to participate and the events are often cancelled. Moreover, since rain is a random event, some children growing up experience nice weather and are more likely to celebrate, while others are hit by bad weather making it less likely that they join the festivities. This allows the researchers to isolate the effect of attending the celebrations from other important factors such as family background and education.
Key conclusions in the paper include:
- Fourth of July celebrations have a significant impact upon people’s political preferences;
- Attending one Fourth of July before age 18 increases the likelihood of identifying as a Republican by at least 2 percent and voting for the Republican candidate by 4 percent. It also increases voter turnout by 0.9 percent and boosts political campaign contributions by 3 percent.
“We were surprised to find that childhood experiences of Fourth July celebrations could have such persistent effects. The evidence suggests that important childhood events can have a permanent impact on political beliefs and behavior and that Fourth of July celebrations in the US affect the nation’s political landscape,” concludes Yanagizawa-Drott.