Transition to Adulthood in the "New" Economy: Economic Recessions and the Structure of the Life Course

Ross Macmillan, University of Minnesota

This research examines the impact of economic recessions on the transition to adulthood in the United States. We begin by articulating a structural perspective on the life course and offer hypotheses about the potential impact of short-term economic dislocations for the transition to adulthood. Using data from the NLSY79, we compare the multi-dimensional structure of the life course for four birth cohorts who were differentially exposed to the economic recession of 1982-1983. Using a two-stage latent class approach, we formally model the interlocked trajectories of school, work, marriage, and parenthood across race-sex-cohort groups and examine the variable role that recessionary contexts have on the transition to adulthood. Findings indicate that structures of the life course are generally resilient to short-term economic shocks but also that economic fluctuations have variable effects on race and sex. Implications for theory and research are discussed.

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Presented in Session 19: Demography and Life Course Studies