NCES Report Features Statistics on Youths’ Transition to Adulthood

A recent National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, America's Youth: Transitions to Adulthood, provides an in-depth perspective on the lives of young adults ages 14 to 24 years old who are transitioning from childhood to adulthood. What makes the statistical comparisons included in the report particularly interesting is the fact that as the report’s introduction notes, the transition to adulthood in the U.S. has changed in the last few decades, as more and more young adults delay establishing households, getting married, entering the work force, and starting families. The report contains statistics highlighting important aspects of their lives, including family, schooling, work, community, and health, and also presents trends in various social contexts that may relate to young adults’ education and learning.

Some of the highlighted statistics in the report include:

  • In 1980, approximately 14.6 million students enrolled in high school (grades 9–12) in the U.S. (about 13.2 million were in public schools and 1.3 million were in private schools). In 2008, high school enrollment reached 16.4 million (about 14.9 million were in public schools and 1.5 million were in private schools).
  • In the 2009–10 school year, a total of 16,699 U.S. high schools offered Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and over 1.8 million students in the United States took at least one AP exam, a number that increased from 0.6 million students in 1996–97. The percentages of students who had taken more advanced courses in mathematics and science also increased between 1982 and 2009.  For example, 76 percent of 2009 high school graduates took Algebra II, compared with 40 percent of their peers from 1982.
  • Approximately 8.3 million 16- to 24-year olds (22 percent of this age group) reported volunteering through or for an organization at least once between September 2008 and September 2009.
  • For 15- to 19-year-olds, the birth rate increased from 53 per 1,000 females in 1980 to 60 per 1,000 in 1990 and then declined to 41 per 1,000 in 2005, and further declined to 39 per 1,000 in 2009.
  • In 2009, about 2.9 million 15- to 24-year-olds (7 percent) lived in households that received some form of public assistance, compared to 1.7 million (4 percent) in 1980.
  • In 2009, 19 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 had not completed high school, while 81 percent had at least a high school diploma or equivalency certification.
  • In 1972, 19 percent of seniors did not expect to complete high school, compared with 5 percent of seniors in 2004. Additionally, the percentage of high school seniors expecting to earn a graduate or professional degree was higher in 2004 than in 1972 (38 vs. 13 percent).
  • The percentage of high school completers who enrolled in college immediately after finishing high school increased from 49 percent in 1980 to 70 percent in 2009. The report notes that students who enroll in college in the fall immediately following their high school graduation have greater college completion rates than those who delay enrollment.[1]
  • The percentage of 16- to 19-year-old males in the labor force decreased from 61 percent in 1980 to 35 percent in 2010, and the percentage of 16- to 19-year-old females decreased from 53 percent to 35 percent over the same time period.

The report’s data is gleaned from a variety of sources, including the Common Core of Data; the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002; the High School Transcript Study; the National Household Education Surveys Program; the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); and many others.


[1] Bozick, R. and DeLuca, S. (2005). Better Late Than Never? Delayed Enrollment in the High School to College Transition, Social Forces 84(1):527–50.

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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