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Price of Independence, The

The Economics of Early Adulthood

Sheldon Danziger, Cecilia Elena Rouse

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

About the Authors

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pp. vii-viii

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1. Introduction: The Price of Independence: The Economics of Early Adulthood

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pp. 1-24

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...

Part 1. Securing Employment and Completing Schooling

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pp. 25-26

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2. Failure to Launch: Cross-National Trends in the Transition to Economic Independence

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pp. 27-55

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...

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3. Is the Company Man an Anachronism? Trends in Long-Term Employment in the United States, 1973 to 2006

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pp. 56-83

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...

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4. Health Insurance and the Transition to Adulthood

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pp. 84-106

About one in six Americans had no health insurance in 2005 (De- Navas-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...

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5. Blurring the Boundary: Changes in Collegiate Participation and the Transition to Adulthood

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pp. 107-138

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.)...

Part 2. Living with Parents Longer and Starting Families Later

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pp. 139-140

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6. Labor Market Experiences and Transitions to Adulthood

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pp. 141-169

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...

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7. Young Adults Leaving the Nest:The Role of the Cost of Living

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pp. 170-206

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...

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8. Sticking Around: Delayed Departure from the Parental Nest in Western Europe

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pp. 207-230

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...

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9. To Have and to Hold: An Analysis of Young Adult Debt

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pp. 231-258

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...

Part 3. Family Background, Incarceration, and the Transition to Adulthood

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pp. 259-260

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10. Family Background and Children’s Transitions to Adulthood over Time

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pp. 261-277

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...

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11. Early Incarceration Spells and Transition to Adulthood

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pp. 278-306

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...


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pp. 307-320

E-ISBN-13: 9781610441483
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871543165
Print-ISBN-10: 0871543168

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 654562859
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Price of Independence, The

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Subject Headings

  • Labor market -- United States.
  • Cost and standard of living -- United States.
  • Families -- Economic aspects -- United States.
  • Young adults -- United States -- Economic conditions.
  • Adulthood -- Economic aspects -- United States.
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