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J Youth Adolesc. 2012 Nov;41(11):1472-87. doi: 10.1007/s10964-012-9764-9. Epub 2012 Apr 13.

The influence of ethnicity and adverse life experiences during adolescence on young adult socioeconomic attainment: the moderating role of education.

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  • 1105 Family Science Center I, Department of Child and Family Development, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA.


Previous research has documented that adverse life experiences during adolescence, particularly for ethnic minorities, have a long-term influence on income and asset attainment and that this relationship is largely mediated by educational achievement. We extend prior research by investigating three research questions. First, we investigate the extent to which community disadvantage, family factors and race/ethnicity each exert an independent influence on young adult socioeconomic attainment. Second, we examine whether youths' educational attainment mediates these independent influences on socioeconomic attainment. Third, we test whether educational attainment ameliorates the negative influences of disadvantaged community and family conditions and race/ethnicity on socioeconomic attainment. We address these questions using multilevel modeling with longitudinal, prospective data from Waves 1 and 4 of National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which has a nationally representative sample of adolescents (N = 13, 450; 53 % females). Regarding our first research question, our results indicated that African Americans, youth from disadvantaged communities, lower SES families achieve significantly lower levels of earnings, assets, and job quality during young adulthood. Second, we found that young adults' educational level only partially mediate the influences of family and race/ethnicity influences on young adults' socioeconomic attainment. Third, we found that young adults' educational level buffered the influence of early socioeconomic adversities and accentuated the positive influences of family resources. Findings highlight the importance of social context as well as educational opportunities during childhood and adolescence for economic stability in early adulthood.

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