Different Paths, Different Destinations: A Life Course Perspective on Educational Transitions

Carolina Milesi, University of Wisconsin at Madison

“Non-traditional” educational trajectories are increasingly common among American students. This study assesses the implications of this phenomenon for socioeconomic (SES) inequality in bachelor’s degree attainment. A proper analysis of “non-traditional” pathways requires consideration of the type of educational experiences individuals have, the timing when transitions occur, and the sequence of events within educational levels. By ignoring these issues, the standard conceptualization of educational attainment – the educational transitions model – offers an incomplete account of educational inequality. The paper uses NLSY 1979-2002 data and an underutilized application of event history methods – multi-state hazard models — to analyze the impact of type, timing, and sequence on degree attainment. Results indicate ample variation on the timing of educational trajectories. Although “non-traditional” students tend to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, the effect of SES changes depending on the transition under consideration. Higher levels of cognitive and non-cognitive skills increase the risk of experiencing the specified educational transitions.

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Presented in Poster Session 3: Children and Youth, Adolescence, Parenting, Transition to Adulthood, Life Course