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Population Characteristics and Economic Outcomes

Young Adult Educational and Employment Outcomes by Family Socioeconomic Status

(Last Updated: May 2019)

Among 2009 ninth-graders, there was no measurable difference between the highest and lowest socioeconomic status (SES) students in the percentage who were employed in 2016 (62 vs. 64 percent), but the percentage who were enrolled in postsecondary education in 2016 was 50 percentage points larger for the highest SES students (78 percent) than for their lowest SES peers (28 percent).

Young adults’ educational and career paths vary widely after secondary education. Individuals make different decisions about whether to enroll in postsecondary education, what type of educational program to pursue, and when to transition to the workforce. The Condition of Education provides yearly updates on many aspects of young adult educational and employment outcomes, including college enrollment and completion rates, employment rates, and annual earnings. However, these indicators rely on annual snapshot data and do not provide information on how outcomes for young adults relate to their experiences during adolescence. Recently released data from a longitudinal study by the National Center for Education Statistics provide a new window into how the educational and economic outcomes of young adults relate to the socioeconomic status (SES) of the family in which they were raised.

The High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) collected data on a nationally representative cohort of ninth-grade students in 2009 and has continued to survey these students at certain points as they progress through secondary and postsecondary education and the workforce.1 The initial 2009 survey collected information from both students and their parents. Parents reported information on their occupation, highest level of education, and income, which was used to construct a variable representing student socioeconomic status. The SES data were used to divide students into five groups (quintiles), with the lowest fifth representing the lowest SES group and the highest fifth representing the highest group.

This indicator uses data from the second HSLS:09 follow-up survey administered in 2016 to examine how the employment status, postsecondary enrollment status, and timing of postsecondary enrollment varied between the lowest and highest fifths of students by SES (“lowest SES students” and “highest SES students,” respectively). In addition, focusing on 2009 ninth-graders who ever attended a postsecondary institution, this indicator examines the relationship between SES and several characteristics of the first postsecondary institution in which the student enrolled: type of credential pursued (certificate or diploma, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or no credential); control (public, private nonprofit, or private for-profit); level (2- or 4-year); and selectivity.

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Figure 1. Percentage distribution of 2009 ninth-graders’ postsecondary enrollment and employment statuses, by socioeconomic status: 2016
Figure 1. Percentage distribution of 2009 ninth-graders’ postsecondary enrollment and employment statuses, by socioeconomic status: 2016

1 Socioeconomic status was measured by a composite score of parental education and occupations and family income in 2009.

2 Indicates whether respondents were enrolled and whether they were employed in February 2016. Respondents are classified as not employed if they were not working in February 2016, regardless of whether they were actively looking for work.

NOTE: Postsecondary and employment outcomes are as of February 2016, approximately 3 years after most respondents had completed high school. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09), Base Year and Second Follow-up. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 302.44.

Figure 2. Percentage distribution of 2009 ninth-graders’ postsecondary enrollment timing and status, by socioeconomic status: 2016
Figure 2. Percentage distribution of 2009 ninth-graders’ postsecondary enrollment timing and status, by socioeconomic status: 2016

1 Socioeconomic status was measured by a composite score of parental education and occupations and family income in 2009.

2 First enrolled in postsecondary education more than 1 year after high school completion date, was no longer enrolled as of February 2016, and had not completed a postsecondary credential.

3 First enrolled in postsecondary education within 1 year of high school completion date, was no longer enrolled as of February 2016, and had not completed a postsecondary credential.

4 First enrolled in postsecondary education more than 1 year after high school completion date and either was still enrolled or had completed a postsecondary credential as of February 2016.

5 First enrolled in postsecondary education within 1 year of high school completion date and either was still enrolled or had completed a postsecondary credential as of February 2016.

NOTE: Postsecondary outcomes are as of February 2016, approximately 3 years after most respondents had completed high school. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09), Base Year and Second Follow-up. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 302.44.

Figure 3. Among 2009 ninth-graders who had enrolled in postsecondary education by 2016, percentage distribution of students’ first credential pursued at first postsecondary institution, by socioeconomic status: 2016
Figure 3. Among 2009 ninth-graders who had enrolled in postsecondary education by 2016, percentage distribution of students’ first credential pursued at first postsecondary institution, by socioeconomic status: 2016

1 Socioeconomic status was measured by a composite score of parental education and occupations and family income in 2009.

NOTE: Postsecondary outcomes are as of February 2016, approximately 3 years after most respondents had completed high school. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09), Base Year and Second Follow-up. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 302.44.

Figure 4. Among 2009 ninth-graders who had enrolled in postsecondary education by 2016, percentage distribution of control and level of students’ first postsecondary institution, by socioeconomic status: 2016
Figure 4. Among 2009 ninth-graders who had enrolled in postsecondary education by 2016, percentage distribution of control and level of students’ first postsecondary institution, by socioeconomic status: 2016

# Rounds to zero.

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.

1 Socioeconomic status was measured by a composite score of parental education and occupations and family income in 2009.

NOTE: Postsecondary outcomes are as of February 2016, approximately 3 years after most respondents had completed high school. Categories not shown in the figure have been suppressed because reporting standards were not met; either there are too few cases for a reliable estimate or the coefficient of variation (CV) is 50 percent or greater. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09), Base Year and Second Follow-up. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 302.44.

Figure 5. Among 2009 ninth-graders who had enrolled in postsecondary education by 2016, percentage distribution of selectivity of students’ first postsecondary institution, by socioeconomic status: 2016
Figure 5. Among 2009 ninth-graders who had enrolled in postsecondary education by 2016, percentage distribution of selectivity of students’ first postsecondary institution, by socioeconomic status: 2016

1 Socioeconomic status was measured by a composite score of parental education and occupations and family income in 2009.

2 Selectivity classification based on the Carnegie Classification 2010: Undergraduate Profile. “Highly selective” 4-year institutions are those whose first-year students’ test scores place them in roughly the top fifth of baccalaureate institutions; “moderately selective” 4-year institutions are those whose first-year students’ test scores place them in roughly the middle fifths of baccalaureate institutions; and “inclusive” 4-year institutions either did not report test score data or reported score data indicating that they extend educational opportunity to a wide range of students with respect to academic preparation and achievement.

NOTE: Postsecondary outcomes are as of February 2016, approximately 3 years after most respondents had completed high school. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09), Base Year and Second Follow-up. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 302.44.


1 Data presented in this indicator cover the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

2 In this indicator, high school completion includes completion of a GED or alternative high school credential.

3 Respondents are classified as not employed if they were not working in February 2016, regardless of whether they were actively looking for work.

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