Hard times on the road to adulthood

In the journal Future of Children, Sheldon Danziger and David Ratner review changes in labor market conditions that have altered the road to adulthood:

“…changes in the labor market over the past thirty-five years, such as labor-saving technological changes, increased globalization, declining unionization, and the failure of the minimum wage to keep up with inflation, have made it more difficult for young adults to attain the economic stability and self-sufficiency that are important markers of the transition to adulthood. Young men with no more than a high school degree have difficulty earning enough to support a family. Even though young women have achieved gains in earnings, employment, and schooling relative to men in recent decades, those without a college degree also struggle to achieve economic stability and self-sufficiency.”

That’s the hard times angle. But the review also shows a number of ways that labor market circumstances have improved for young women. Some of those gains look especially good relative to men, who have lost ground, as in the case of the percentage of men versus women working for less than $9/hour in 2007 dollars (more than the national minimum wage in 1979, less than a poverty wage for a family today):

The improvements are greatest for White women, and the situation is worst for Latino men (note, people without jobs aren’t included in this graph). But the pattern is similar across race-ethnic groups: worse for men, better for women, at the bottom of the market.

The implication many have drawn from these trends is that the improved job situation for women, relative to men, explains the decline in marriage and the rise in single mother families. They remind us, however, that research has not been able to establish that link. It is true that men with job problems are less likely to marry, but that can’t explain the whole increase in the age people marry or have children outside marriage, and the trends in marriage and childbearing are similar up and down the labor market spectrum.

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One response to “Hard times on the road to adulthood

  1. Pingback: Young Adults Losing Ground « Karl Bakeman

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