Trends in the Economic Independence of Young Adults in the United States: 1973–2007



One of the major milestones of adulthood is achieving economic independence. Without sufficient income, young people have difficulty leaving their childhood home, establishing a union, or having children—or they do so at great peril. Using the National Longitudinal Survey, this article compares the employment and economic circumstances of young adults aged 22–30 in 1973, 1987, and 2007, and their possible determinants. The results show that achieving economic independence is more difficult now than it was in the late 1980s and especially in the 1970s, even for the older age groups (age 27–28). The deterioration is more evident among men. From the 1970s there has been convergence in the trajectories for the achievement of economic self-sufficiency between men and women, suggesting that the increase in gender parity, especially in education and labor market outcomes, is making their opportunities to be employed and to earn good wages more similar. This convergence also suggests that union formation increasingly may depend on a capacity to combine men's and women's wages.