Characterizing the developmental heterogeneity of connectedness to school or work during the transition into adulthood
Palmer, Ashley N.
University of Kansas
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Prior research has focused on “disconnected youth,” often defined as individuals between 16 and 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor employed. This particular issue has gained attention, at least partially due to research that suggests that there are individual consequences such as worse health and lower income associated with precarious connections to school or work and societal consequences such as lost taxes and costs associated with public assistance, healthcare, and crime. However, most prior research has been cross-sectional and has defined connectedness to school or work as an either-or outcome. This conflicts with research on the transition into adulthood that suggests there are varied, individualized pathways in moving from adolescence into young adulthood. The purpose of this study was to characterize differences in the developmental trajectories of connectedness to school or work across the transition into adulthood. Two research questions were posed: (1) Are there individual differences in the developmental trajectories of being connected to school or work during the transition into adulthood? (2) What childhood factors are associated with individual differences in the developmental trajectories of being connected to school or work during the transition into adulthood? Latent variable mixture models were used to answer the first question. The sample included 2,027 individuals between the ages of 18 and 26 who participated in at least two waves of the Transition into Adulthood Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) between 2005 and 2015. The second question was answered using a subsample of 757 individuals from the original sample of 2,027 who had data from middle childhood (i.e., ages 8, 9 or 10) collected in either the 1997 or 2002 PSID Childhood Development Supplement interviews. Multinomial logistic regression examined childhood factors related to differences in the developmental trajectories identified in the first analytic phase. Based on model comparison fit statistics, examination of classification quality, and subjective evaluation of usefulness and interpretability, a four-class latent growth mixture model was selected to describe four qualitatively different developmental patterns of connectedness to school or work. Overall, findings implied that there is considerable heterogeneity in connectedness patterns across the transition into adulthood, with a substantial proportion of sample members experiencing sporadic connections to school or work across the transition into adulthood. Further, at least some middle childhood factors were related to differences in connectedness pathways during the transition into adulthood, even when controlling for young adult demographic factors. Future research is necessary to improve the conceptualization and measurement of this phenomenon, as well as research that examines how differences in the developmental trajectories of connectedness to school or work fit within the broader life course. These findings and future research may inform policies and programs that target supports to young people before and during the transition into adulthood.
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