America at age 24: An education and employment snapshot

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Studies are often conducted to get a glimpse into the behaviors and characteristics of a certain population subset. Yet while these studies provide interesting insight, they don’t always give us the full picture since they often represent only one moment in time.

That’s why the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 1997 is so fascinating. Findings from the study — called longitudinal because it follows the same group of people over time — were just released on the education and employment experiences of Americans at age 24. The study follows a nationally representative sample of approximately 9,000 men and women who were born between 1980 and 1984, were 12 to 17 when first interviewed in 1997, and were 24 to 30 when interviewed for the 13th time in 2009-2010. The recently released data are from this 13th round of interviews.

Here’s a recap of some of the most compelling results:

  • Bachelor’s degree attainment over three-year span: Twenty-three percent of young adults had secured a bachelor’s degree or more by the October when they were 24. That compares with 18.7 percent who had done so by the October when they were 23 and 9.7 percent who had done so the October when they were 22.
  • Education gap between men and women: According to the data, nearly 28 percent of women had received a bachelor’s degree by the October when they were 24. That was 9 percentage points higher than men; only 19 percent of them had received their degree by that age.
  • Military versus post-secondary education: Seven percent of male high-school graduates who had never enrolled in college were in the U.S. Armed Forces during the October when they were 24, as were 7 percent of the 24-year-old men who had attended college but had not earned a bachelor’s degree and were no longer enrolled.
  • Education and ethnicity: Non-Hispanic whites are nearly three times as likely as Hispanics or Latinos to have received their bachelor’s degree at age 24. Twenty-eight percent of non-Hispanic whites had received their bachelor’s degree, compared with 11 percent of non-Hispanic blacks and 10 percent of Hispanics or Latinos.
  • Average number of jobs held: In looking at work experience, those born from 1980-1984 held an average of 5.4 jobs from ages 18 to 24. From a gender perspective, men held an average of 5.1 jobs, while women held an average of 5.6.
  • Relationship between high-school graduation and employment: By the time they turned 25, 6 percent of the young adults who had not received a high-school diploma had never held a job since turning 18.

The BLS releases new data from the survey annually, so it will be interesting to see next year’s findings as the study dig deeper into the experiences of America’s young adults near their quarter-century mark.

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