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Labor Market Outcomes and the Transition to Adulthood

August 2009

Sheldon Danziger and David Ratner, University of Michigan

Download 'working_paper09-12.pdf'.


This paper focuses on the labor market outcomes that represent a key marker of the transition to adulthood—the attainment of economic stability and self-sufficiency. Achieving labor market success is a necessary condition for a successful transition to adulthood, even it is not sufficient to guarantee success in achieving other markers of adulthood discussed elsewhere in this volume. We document the divergent labor market experiences of young adult males and females over the past 30 years and the widening gap in labor market outcomes between less educated and more educated young adults. For young men, in particular those without a high school degree, it is now more difficult to earn enough to support a family than it was in the mid-1970s. Young women have achieved remarkable gains in earnings, employment and educational attainment since the mid-1970s. However, young women without a college degree, like their male counterparts, have had great difficulty achieving economic stability success.

Policies to improve the labor market prospects of young adults are necessary to facilitate successful transitions to adulthood, even if labor market success, on its own, is not sufficient to achieve the other markers of adulthood (living independently, marrying and having children). There are numerous public policy reforms that can raise the employment and incomes of today’s young adults and increase the educational attainment, and hence the labor market success, of the next generation.

Employment, Unemployment, and the Labor Market, Young Adults and the Transition to Adulthood