From the Brady Bunch to Gilmore Girls: The Effect of Household Size on Economic Voting

Date01 July 2021
Published date01 July 2021
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2021, Vol. 49(4) 400 –411
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211005672
The number of household members varies substantially
across families, both within countries and over time. In 2019,
for instance, 28.4% of American households were one-per-
son, while the average household size has declined nearly
everywhere in the last few decades (United Nations, 2017)
and this downward trend is expected to continue (OECD,
2011). In France, for example, the average household size
fell from 3.1 persons per household in 1966 to 2.3 in 2011; in
Kenya, from 5.3 in 1969 to 4.0 in 2014 (United Nations,
2017); and in the United States, from 3.3 in 1960 to 2.5 in
2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Family TV
shows in the United States nicely illustrate this demographic
change. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, The Brady Bunch
was a popular sitcom following the day-to-day lives of a
blended family of six children; in the 2000s, Gilmore Girls
followed a single mother and her daughter.
This article examines whether household structure
affects economic voting in the United States. We argue that
household size (i.e., the number of persons who make com-
mon provision of food, shelter, and other essentials for liv-
ing, according to the definition in United Nations, 2017, p.
1) is highly relevant to shaping the influence of the econ-
omy on election results. Both perceptions of national eco-
nomic conditions and personal economic experiences are
endogenous to household size, captured with the number of
adults in the household. Individuals’ economic opinions are
to some extent an aggregation of household members’
personal experiences. The higher the number of members
of a household, the more variation in personal economic
experiences within the household is expected. The aggrega-
tion of individual financial evaluations in multi-person
households will presumably cancel out the variation in eco-
nomic opinions, thereby leaving more moderate or mid-
range retrospective evaluations of national and personal
economic conditions than in one-person households.
Relying on individual-level data from the Cumulative
Data File of the American National Election Study across
U.S. presidential elections from 1966 to 2016, we begin
by noting that household size affects evaluations of
national economic conditions both directly and indirectly
through personal financial experiences. Binomial logit
models including more than 20,000 individuals provide
fairly conclusive evidence that people in multi-person
households have more moderate views of economic per-
formance than individuals in one-person households.
Using aggregated state-level data from five U.S. presiden-
tial elections, we assess whether the number of household
1005672APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211005672American Politics ResearchLago and Lago
1University College of Dublin, Belfield, Ireland and Governance and
Economics research Network (GEN)
2Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain and Governance and
Economics research Network (GEN)
Corresponding Author:
Ignacio Lago, Department of Political and Social Sciences, Universitat
Pompeu Fabra, Ramon Trias Fargas 25-27, Barcelona 08005, Spain.
From the Brady Bunch to Gilmore
Girls: The Effect of Household Size
on Economic Voting
Manuel E. Lago1 and Ignacio Lago2
This article examines whether household size affects economic voting. We argue when individuals are asked about national
economic conditions and their personal financial situation that moderate or mid-range responses are more likely in multi-
person households than in one-person households. The aggregation of personal economic evaluations within households
reduces the variation in economic opinions across household members. As a result, it is harder for an individual to say that
the national economic conditions and her personal financial situation are good or bad as the number of household members
increases. Using individual-level data from the American National Election Studies from 1966 to 2016, the authors find
that both evaluations of the national economy and personal economic conditions are endogenous to household size. The
aggregate, state-level evidence from five presidential elections in the U.S. shows that the impact of the economy on the
incumbent support increases the larger the number of one-person households.
economic voting, household size, personal financial experience, sociotropic economic evaluation, U.S. presidential elections

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