Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Precursors of Young Women's Family Formation Pathways

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Precursors of Young Women's Family Formation Pathways

Article excerpt

We used latent class analysis to create family formation pathways for women between the ages of 18 and 23. Input variables included cohabitation, marriage, parenthood, full-time employment, and attending school. Data (n = 2,290) came from Waves I and III of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). The analysis revealed seven latent pathways: college-no family formation (29%), high school-no family formation (19%), cohabitation without children (15%), married mothers (14%), single mothers (10%), cohabiting mothers (8%), and inactive (6%). Three sets of variables distinguished between the groups: personal and social resources in adolescence, family socioeconomic resources and adolescent academic achievement, and conservative values and behavior in adolescence.

Key Words: adolescence, emergent adulthood, latent class analysis, life course, life events, life transitions, youth.

The transition to adulthood has changed dramatically in recent decades, and scholarly interest in the topic has increased accordingly. The demographic facts of recent changes are well known: On average, men and women are marrying and becoming parents later (Ventura & Bachrach, 2000), cohabiting rather than marrying in the early adult years (Bumpass & Lu, 2000), and bearing more of their children outside of marriage (Wu, Bumpass, & Mustek, 2001). Young adults are also continuing their educations beyond high school because of the changing skill requirements of jobs, and the pursuit of higher education is most likely to be undertaken by individuals who postpone family formation.

The late teens and early 20s have become a period of great variability in the life course, with some individuals postponing all family-related transitions, others making tentative commitments (e.g., cohabitation), and still others making choices with more enduring consequences (e.g., entry into parenthood). Studies conducted in the 1980s and early 1990s (Hogan & Astone, 1986; Rindfuss, 1991) described the young adult years as demographically dense, diverse, and disordered. Family formation pathways have become even more diverse since then. Currently, only 12% of women marry in their early 20s without a prior cohabitation or nonmarital birth (Schoen, Landale, & Daniels, 2007). Despite the complexity of this stage of the life course, the great majority of demographic studies have focused on transitions into a single status (e.g., marriage or parenthood).

Rather than focusing on individual status (or role) transitions, life course theory emphasizes the timing and sequencing of transitions (Elder, 1998; Zollinger & Elder, 1998). Transitions have different meanings, precursors, and consequences depending on when they occur in the life course and where they fit within larger sequences. For example, first marriages at age 19 and 30 are qualitatively different events. Similarly, births that precede marriage differ from births that follow marriage in many ways. Life course theory, therefore, holds that pathways (the timing and sequencing of multiple transitions), rather than single transitions, should be the subject matter of research.

The present study has two aims. The first is descriptive. Drawing on data from Waves I and III of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), we use latent class analysis to determine the most common pathways that women between the ages of 18 to 23 follow with respect to cohabitation, marriage, parenthood, attending school, and working fulltime. Marriage and parenthood have long been defined as the key transitions that constitute family formation (Bumpass & Lu, 2000; Schoen et al., 2007), although demographers have increasingly recognized nonmarital cohabitation as a distinct family form (Bumpass & Raley, 1995). An innovation of the present study is the inclusion of cohabitation as a transition in young adults' family formation pathways. We also include school attendance and full-time employment, because decisions about these topics are often made in conjunction with decisions about family formation. …

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