Pathways to adulthood and their precursors: Roles of gender and race
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Research on the transition to adulthood dates back nearly four decades, but a growing body of research has taken a new approach by investigating multiple demographic markers in the transition to adulthood simultaneously. Using the life course perspective, this dissertation is built on the literature by first examining contemporary young adults’ pathways to adulthood from ages 18 to 30 and their differences by gender. Data for this study were drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997; the final sample included 2,185 men and 2,086 women. The college-educated single workers pathway, the college-educated married working parents pathway, and the high-school-educated single parents pathway were identified in both genders. For men, the study also identified the high-school-educated single workers pathway and the high-school-educated married working parents pathway. For women, the study also identified the high-school-educated workers pathway and the high-school-educated married parents pathway. Not only did the definitions of some pathways differ by gender, but even in the pathways with the same definition, gender differences were found in the probabilities of being married, of being a parent, or of being employed full-time.
Based on the pathways to adulthood identified, this research examined the family and adolescent precursors and whether race moderates the associations between family structure experiences and young adults’ pathways to adulthood. Parental education, family structure, GPA, delinquency, early sexual activity, and race/ethnicity were the family and adolescent precursors that distinguished among pathways taken by the youth. Two interactions between race and family structure/instability were identified. The positive association between growing up in a single-parent family and the odds of taking the high-school-educated single workers pathway compared to the college-educated married working parents pathway was weaker for Black males than for White males. The positive association between family instability and the odds of taking the college-educated single workers pathway compared to the college-educated married working parents pathway was weaker for Black females than for White females.
This dissertation accounted for changes in the multiple statuses related to becoming an adult by following contemporary young adults for 12 years. More research on contemporary young adults’ pathways to adulthood and subgroup differences in the effects of precursors are recommended. Limitations and implications of this study are discussed.