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Vulnerable Youth and the Transition to Adulthood

Principal Investigators: Jennifer Macomber and Michael Pergamit The Urban Institute


This project examined the role of different aspects of youth vulnerability and risk-taking behaviors on several outcomes for young adults.  The data come from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 cohort (NLSY97).  The NLSY97, funded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, follows a sample of adolescents in 1997 into young adulthood with annual interviews that capture their education, employment, family formation, and other behaviors.  The analyses in this series use the subset of youth born in 1980-81, who were 15-17 years old when first interviewed in 1997.  Outcomes are obtained by using the annual data through 2005 when these young adults were 23-25 years old.


Major findings from this project include:

  • Connectedness Trajectories of Youth:  Trajectory analyses reveal that youth follow one of four patterns in connecting to the labor market and school between the ages of 18 and 24:  consistently-connected, later-connected, initially-connected, or never-connected.  The study also describes the factors associated with membership in each group, such as participation in adolescent risk behaviors.
  • Employment and Education Outcomes for Second Generation Latino Youth:  Analyses suggest that second generation Latinos make a fairly smooth transition to young adulthood and, after controlling for other factors, make a better transition than white, black, and third generation Latino youth.  At the same time, they are less likely to engage in post-secondary schooling than whites in young adulthood, which may contribute to a potential gap in future earnings.
  • Young Adult Outcomes for Vulnerable Youth:  For three groups of potentially vulnerable youth (youth from low-income families, youth from distressed neighborhoods, and youth with poor mental health) findings suggest vulnerable youth have relatively high levels of participation in risky behaviors as adolescents and relatively lower earnings and connectedness to the labor market and school in early adulthood.  The study also considers differences in behaviors and outcomes between young men and young women as they transition to adulthood, and findings suggest that differences between young men and young women are related to the fact that some women are caring for children.


  1. Multiple Pathways Connecting to School and Work, Research Brief
  2. Second-Generation Latinos, Connecting to School and Work, Research Brief
  3. Youth from Low-Income Families, Fact Sheet
  4. Youth from Distressed Neighborhoods, Fact Sheet
  5. Youth with Depression/Anxiety, Fact Sheet
  6. Young Men and Young Women, Fact Sheet