Social status, cognitive ability, and educational attainment as predictors of liberal social attitudes and political trust

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We examined the prospective associations between family socio-economic background, childhood intelligence (g) at age 11, educational and occupational attainment, and social attitudes at age 33 in a large (N = 8804), representative sample of the British population born in 1958. Structural equation Modeling identified a latent trait of ‘liberal social attitudes’ underlying attitude factors that are antiracist, socially liberal, and in support of gender equality. Another attitude factor—‘political trust’—was relatively independent from the latent attitude trait and has somewhat different pathways in relation to the other variables included in the analysis. There was a direct association between higher g at age 11 and more liberal social attitudes and political trust at age 33. For both men and women the association between g and liberal social attitudes was partly mediated via educational qualifications, and to a much lesser extent via adult occupational attainment. For women the association between g and political trust was partly mediated through both educational qualification and occupational attainment, and for men it was mediated mainly via occupational attainment. Men and women who had higher educational qualifications and higher occupational status tend to be more socially liberal and more trusting of the democratic political system. In terms of socio-economic background, people from less privileged families showed less political trust, but did not differ much in liberal social attitudes from those born into relatively more privileged circumstances. This study shows that social background, cognitive ability, education, and own social status influence perceptions of society.

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