School & District Management

NCES: Young Adults Extending Education, Delaying Work

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 20, 2011 1 min read
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American young adults are extending their education and putting off some major adult milestones, such as entering the workforce and marrying, compared to decades past, according to a new demographic report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

NCES this morning released its study, America’s Youth Transitions to Adulthood, an analysis of Americans ages 14 to 24 from the 1980s to 2010.

A much larger percentage of this generation of 18- to 19-year-olds is enrolled in school of some sort, 69 percent, compared to only 46 percent in 1980. Moreover, 30 percent of those ages 22 to 24 are still in school, compared to only 16 percent of that age group in 1980.

That could be in part because the labor market has not been kind to teenagers and those who leave high school without a diploma—even before the current economic downturn. From 1980 to 1999, 30 percent or more of 16- and 17-year-olds were employed at least part-time, but that percentage has been plummeting since 2000, and by 2009, only about 15 percent of teenagers in that age group had a job. Moreover, the percentage of high school dropouts who had a job in the year they left school also sank, from 64 percent in 1980 to 49 percent in 2009.

Among the poorest 25 percent of young people, only 11 percent of high school seniors in 2004 said they did not expect to complete high school, compared with more than a third of the poorest students in 1972.

There is a plethora of great information to dig into in this report, but for me the most interesting describes the sea change of young people committing to extended education and putting off work. In the short term, with more people delaying retirement, this might not affect our labor market, but it does raise questions about how schools are pacing students for this extended education marathon.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.