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Historical Trends in Parental Financial Support of Young Adults

Publication Abstract

Download PDF versionWightman, Patrick, Megan Patrick, Robert F. Schoeni, and John E. Schulenberg. 2013. "Historical Trends in Parental Financial Support of Young Adults." PSC Research Report No. 13-801. September 2013.

Relative to 30 years ago, young adults are taking longer to complete school, begin careers, get married and have children. Moreover, the number of pathways describing the ordering of these events has greatly proliferated. It has been hypothesized that parental financial support has facilitated this delay, but there have been no empirical assessments of changes in the levels of financial support received by young adults over this time period. This is due largely to the fact that information on intra-family transfers from parents to young-adult children in large-scale, nationally-representative datasets is both rare and, where available, restricted to relatively recent cohorts. One exception is the national Monitoring the Future study (MTF), whose cohort-sequential, longitudinal design allows us to examine how patterns of parental support vary with the historical demographic and economic changes in the transition to adulthood. Dividing our sample into post-adolescents (respondents primarily ages 19-22) and early adults (23-28), we find significant increases in the receipt of parental financial support among both groups between the early 1980s and 2011. These changes coincide with increases in school attendance and declines in full-time employment and marriage. While young adults' dependence on support varies by family SES (measured by parental education), disparities have not increased over time.

Country of focus: United States of America.

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