Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trends Among Young Adults Over Three Decades, 1974-2006

This report describes patterns of continuity and change over time in four areas of the transition to adulthood among young adults as measured 2 years after their senior year of high school. The four areas are postsecondary enrollment, labor force roles, family formation, and civic engagement. The analysis population is spring-term high school seniors in 1972, 1980, 1992, and 2004. The data come from four separate NCES-sponsored studies: the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 (NLS:72), High School and Beyond (HS&B), the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88), and the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002).

Findings include:

• Overall, the percentage of young adults enrolled in postsecondary courses 2 years after their senior year of high school was higher in 2006 (62 percent) than it was in 1974 (40 percent).

• When comparing the postsecondary experiences of high school seniors in spring 1972 with those in spring 2004, the percentage of those who had ever enrolled in a postsecondary institution within 2 years of their scheduled high school graduation was 63 percent in 1974 and 78 percent in 2006.

• Among young adults who ever attended a postsecondary institution, the percentage who worked for pay while enrolled was higher in 2006 (78 percent) than in 1974 (63 percent).

• Across the four cohorts, the most common living arrangement for young adults approximately 2 years out of high school was to live with their parents. The percentage of young adults living with their parents was 39 percent in 1974, 50 percent in 1982, 51 percent in 1994, and 46 percent in 2006.

• At all four time points studied (1974, 1982, 1994, and 2006), a higher percentage of females reported being married than males did. For females, the percentages were 34 percent, 16 percent, 10 percent, and 6 percent, respectively, while the comparable percentages for males were 18 percent, 7 percent, 5 percent, and 2 percent, respectively.

• Within each of the four cohorts, there was a positive association between expected levels of educational attainment and reported rates of voting. In each cohort, the percentages of those who had ever voted were higher among those who expected to attain a bachelor’s degree or some higher level of education than among those who only expected to graduate from high school or less. For example, in 1974, 50 percent of those who expected to attain a high school diploma or less voted, compared with 72 percent of those who expected to be college graduates and 77 percent who expected to complete a graduate or professional degree. In 2006, the comparable figures were 35 percent, 61 percent, and 66 percent, respectively.