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Price of Independence, The

Price of Independence, The: The Economics of Early Adulthood

Sheldon Danziger
Cecilia Elena Rouse
Copyright Date: January 2008
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Price of Independence, The
    Book Description:

    More and more young men and women today are taking longer and having more difficulty making a successful transition to adulthood.  They are staying in school longer, having a harder time finding steady employment at jobs that provide health insurance, and are not marrying and having children until much later in life than their parents did. In The Price of Independence, a roster of distinguished experts diagnose the extent and causes of these trends. Observers of social trends have speculated on the economic changes that may be delaying the transition to adulthood—from worsening job opportunities to mounting student debt and higher housing costs—but few have offered empirical evidence to back up their claims. The Price of Independence represents the first significant analysis of these economic explanations, charting the evolving life circumstances of eighteen to thirty-five year-olds over the last few decades. Lisa Bell, Gary Burtless, Janet Gornick, and Timothy M. Smeeding show that the earnings of young workers in the U.S. and a number of industrialized countries have declined relative to the cost of supporting a family, which may explain their protracted dependence. In addition, Henry Farber finds that job stability for young male workers has dropped over the last generation. But while economic factors have some influence on young people’s transitions to adulthood, The Price of Independence shows that changes in the economic climate can not account for the magnitude of the societal shift in the timing of independent living, marriage, and childbearing. Aaron Yelowitz debunks the myth that steep housing prices are forcing the young to live at home—housing costs actually fell between 1980 and 2000 once lower interest rates and tax subsidies are taken into account. And Ngina Chiteji reveals that average student loan debt is only $3,500 per household. The trend toward starting careers and families later appears to have more to do with changing social norms, as well as policies that have broadened access to higher education, than with changes in the economy. For better or worse, the current generation is redefining the nature and boundaries of  what it means to be a young adult. The Price of Independence documents just how dramatically the modern lifecycle has changed and offers evidence as an antidote to much of the conventional wisdom about these social changes.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-148-3
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction: The Price of Independence: The Economics of Early Adulthood
    (pp. 1-24)
    Sheldon Danziger and Cecilia Elena Rouse

    Who is an “adult”? Many would identify having completed schooling, working steadily, living independently of one’s parents, marrying, and having children as the markers of adulthood, traditionally achieved between the late teens and the early thirties (Furstenberg, Rumbaut, and Settersten 2005).¹ However, compared with their parents’ generation, young people today are taking longer to complete their schooling and to settle into steady employment, are establishing their own households at later ages, and are delaying marriage and childbearing. The ordering of the markers of adulthood has also changed and become more varied (Fussell and Furstenberg 2005). For example, a greater percentage...


    • Chapter 2 Failure to Launch: Cross-National Trends in the Transition to Economic Independence
      (pp. 27-55)
      Lisa Bell, Gary Burtless, Janet Gornick and Timothy M. Smeeding

      In contrast to retirement, which is happening earlier for many, the transition to adulthood, especially economic self-sufficiency, is taking longer in most industrialized countries. One possible reason for this “failure to launch” is that well-compensated jobs now require more schooling. That is not the only answer, however, at least not in the United States, where educational attainment among twenty-five- to thirty-four-year-olds has increased relatively little since the early 1980s (Haveman and Smeeding 2006). Another reason for delayed economic independence may be labor market changes that have made well-paid employment more elusive for young people. If so, the relative earnings of...

    • Chapter 3 Is the Company Man an Anachronism? Trends in Long-Term Employment in the United States, 1973 to 2006
      (pp. 56-83)
      Henry S. Farber

      The typical characterization of a work career is that after some turnover early on, most workers find a more or less lifetime job. However, this trajectory has been challenged in the last twenty years as large corporations have engaged in highly publicized layoffs and the industrial structure of the U.S. economy has shifted in the face of global competition. To the extent that there has been a substantial change in career employment dynamics, young workers who entered the labor force in recent years and those who enter in the future will face a very different type of career path than...

    • Chapter 4 Health Insurance and the Transition to Adulthood
      (pp. 84-106)
      Helen Levy

      About one in six Americans had no health insurance in 2005 (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Lee 2006). Not surprisingly, the uninsured tend to be poorer than the insured (Institute of Medicine 2001). They are also younger. In fact, one-half of all uninsured adults are between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four (author’s calculations based on DeNavas-Walt et al. 2006, table 8). Even though young adults have the highest rates of uninsurance of any age group, very little research has focused on their health insurance coverage.¹ Nor has any of the research on the transition to adulthood examined health insurance coverage. This...

    • Chapter 5 Blurring the Boundary: Changes in Collegiate Participation and the Transition to Adulthood
      (pp. 107-138)
      Maria D. Fitzpatrick and Sarah E. Turner

      Today college enrollment and activities like working and raising a family are not mutually exclusive. During the early 1970s, nearly three-fourths of undergraduate students fell into the eighteen-to-twenty-one age bracket, but today only about 56 percent fit that description (U.S. Bureau of the Census n.d.).

      It is not just the age of college participants that has changed but the boundaries between college-going and other adult activities such as employment, marriage, and child-rearing. Among those enrolled in college over the age of twenty-four, nearly 70 percent are also employed, while the share of college students under the age of twenty-four also...


    • Chapter 6 Labor Market Experiences and Transitions to Adulthood
      (pp. 141-169)
      Carolyn J. Hill and Harry Holzer

      Richard Settersten, Frank Furstenberg, and Rubén Rumbaut (2005, 5) recently concluded that today “entry into adulthood has become more ambiguous and generally occurs in a gradual, complex, and less uniform fashion” than in the recent past. This more protracted and complex transition to adulthood is often the focus of media and other reports that describe it as a “failure to launch” or a prolonged “adultolescence” in which youth simply refuse to assume the responsibilities of adulthood. Others have argued that perhaps the economy is the reason why more youth live longer at home with parents or delay marriage. Real wages...

    • Chapter 7 Young Adults Leaving the Nest: The Role of the Cost of Living
      (pp. 170-206)
      Aaron S. Yelowitz

      A Time magazine article published January 24, 2005, and entitled “They Just Won’t Grow Up” discusses the widely held perception that the transition to adulthood has become longer. The article describes the emergence of “twixters,” young adults in their twenties who refuse to settle down. In response to the question “What makes you an adult?” people age eighteen to twenty-nine answered: having a first child (22 percent), moving out of the parents’ home (22 percent), getting a good job with benefits (19 percent), getting married (14 percent), and finishing school (10 percent). Despite the fact that such perceptions about adulthood...

    • Chapter 8 Sticking Around: Delayed Departure from the Parental Nest in Western Europe
      (pp. 207-230)
      Katherine Newman and Sofya Aptekar

      Most of the chapters in this volume focus on the transition to adulthood in the United States, yet some of the most dramatic changes in pathways to independence are unfolding beyond U.S. borders. In some Catholic countries of western Europe, young adults are marrying later or not marrying at all. Below-replacement fertility has produced pressures to open the gates to immigration in countries with little or no history of incorporating newcomers. Changing patterns of household formation have wide-ranging implications for intergenerational economic support and are taking place against the backdrop of divergent national policies for old-age support, labor market protection,...

    • Chapter 9 To Have and to Hold: An Analysis of Young Adult Debt
      (pp. 231-258)
      Ngina S. Chiteji

      Researchers have long recognized the importance of studying young adults’ experiences in labor markets, in the educational arena, and within the family. These three domains are considered key to shaping the transition to adulthood in the United States (Settersten, Furstenberg, and Rumbaut 2005). Young adults’ experiences in credit markets have received less attention in the scholarly literature. Given their stage in the life cycle, however, we would expect young people to have much to gain from participation in credit markets. Moreover, we would expect their use of credit to be connected to their experiences in other markets.

      Credit markets exist...


    • Chapter 10 Family Background and Children’s Transitions to Adulthood over Time
      (pp. 261-277)
      Melanie Guldi, Marianne E. Page and Ann Huff Stevens

      The transition to adulthood is almost by definition a process of breaking away from one’s family of origin. Nevertheless, family background has an impact on the success of this transition. For example, Gary Sandefur, Jennifer Eggerling-Boeck, and Hyunjoon Park (2005) and David Ellwood and Thomas Kane (2000) show that parental education and family income are positively correlated with the probability that a young adult will pursue postsecondary education, and Tom Hertz (2005) estimates that a son born into a family whose income is in the top 10 percent of the income distribution is twenty-three times more likely to end up...

    • Chapter 11 Early Incarceration Spells and the Transition to Adulthood
      (pp. 278-306)
      Steven Raphael

      Over the past three decades, the population of U.S. prisons and jails has more than quadrupled. In 1977 roughly 500,000 people were incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails. As of 2004 this figure was more than 2.1 million, with the lion’s share of these inmates incarcerated in state and federal prisons. The risk of incarceration is especially high for minority men. Between 1974 and 2001, the proportion of U.S. adults who were either currently or previously incarcerated increased from approximately 1.2 percent to 2.7 percent. For men the proportion increased from 2.3 percent to 4.9 percent, while for African...

  8. Index
    (pp. 307-320)