Early Employment and Family Formation in the United States

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Shattuck, Rachel
Rendall, Michael S.
In this dissertation, I examine three scenarios by which U.S. young adults’ early employment and access to material resources intersect with their family formation behavior. I first address how educational attainment and early employment prospects enable and constrain young women’s ability to enter into the kind of family forms they prefer. I investigate the relationship between women’s preferences as stated in adolescence for or against having children while unmarried, their socioeconomic resources in young adulthood, and their eventual likelihood of having marital first birth, having a nonmarital first birth, or continuing to postpone childbearing. I find that after accounting for individual resource acquisition and early partner characteristics, women’s preferences play a stronger role in whether or not they postpone childbearing than in whether they have a marital versus a nomarital first birth. I next address the role of early employment experiences and early family formation behavior as they affect the accuracy of young women’s retrospective reporting on the timing of their first stable employment. I use panel data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth-1997 (NLSY97) to evaluate the accuracy of responses to retrospective questions about first stable employment from three surveys that interview respondent retrospectively about their first substantial employment. I find that women with higher early employment history salience and lower complexity, and those who have “anchoring” biographical details of early family formation report more accurately the timing of their first employment. I next address the topic of how early employment in the military affects veterans’ likelihood of entering into race/ethnic intermarriages, which are more common among military veterans than in the general population, and have increased at a faster rate among veterans than non-veterans from the 1960s to the present. I show that a combination of exposure to diverse race/ethnic composition in a military setting, training and benefits that facilitate veterans’ socioeconomic advancement, and military policies and norms that hold personnel to standards of nondiscriminatory behavior jointly contribute to increasing veterans’ likelihood of intermarriage relative to non-veterans. These effects are strongest for black and white veterans.