Gaps in educational and employment outcomes persist (and in some cases are growing) among various groups of young adults in the United States. Particularly notable are the gaps that exist between minority young adults—especially black young adults—and their white counterparts. One oft-cited reason for this trend is the growing number of youth who have grown up in single-parent households. For example, the proportion of young blacks growing up in female-headed households increased dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s, leading many to believe that this helps explain why black male youth and young adults today have experienced worsening educational and employment outcomes, rising incarceration rates, and increasing single parenthood.
Hill, Holzer, and Chen examine the effects of household structure on youth and young adults and how these effects might have contributed to the negative trends in outcomes observed for young minorities over time. They take into account several measures likely to affect outcomes, including human capital enrichment in the home; neighborhood environment, especially safety; and parental behavior and the home environment. They then consider the extent to which these measures are responsible for the observed effects of household structure on youth and young adult outcomes, and whether they account for significant effects among the full sample, for all blacks, for black males, and for black females. For young people from low-income and single-parent families to be successful, the authors recommend policies that promote healthy marriages or more positive noncustodial fatherhood, higher incomes for working single parents, better schooling or employment options and safer neighborhoods for poor youth, and better child care and parenting among single parents.
The bottom line, say the authors, is that young people growing up in single-parent households face a combination of additional challenges compared to young people growing up in two-parent families, and that these challenges, while not insurmountable, pose a significant hurdle to achieving educational and employment success.
The book shows that educational and employment outcomes for blacks and Hispanics continue to be lower than for whites even after controlling for these factors. Notably, young women have made more progress in both education and employment than have young men in all racial groups over the past two decades. Most troubling, however, the authors find that young black men are falling even further behind whites and Hispanics in a number of dimensions, and substantially behind black women in educational attainment and achievement.
"Teachers of graduate courses in social policy, family sociology or labor economics will want to consider adding 'Against the Tide' to their lists of assigned readings." Journal of Economic Literature