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Readers Guide

The first edition of Youth Indicators, published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 1988, contained statistics to describe the circumstances of young people's lives both in school and beyond the classroom. The current report is the sixth edition in this series. The report acknowledges that learning may occur across many different settings and may be influenced by circumstances and experiences in various social contexts.

America's Youth: Transitions to Adulthood is a statistical compilation of data on the distribution of youth, their family structure, economic factors, school and extracurricular activities, health factors, and other elements that constitute the world of young people between the ages of 14 to 24. These data present a composite of the youth experience, highlighting connections between their lives inside and outside of school. Much of the data in this publication are central to long-term policy debates on education issues. Where possible, trend data are provided as a historical context for interpretation. Some tables cover only more recent years, either because they show key details of the current status or because historical data are unavailable. Information on additional age groups is provided on many tables to relate the youth experience to that of people of other ages.

Some of the tables in this report use different data sources or different definitions of terms to present estimates on similar variables. It is important to note that comparisons between estimates with such differences should be made with caution, if at all, because they may be compromised by differences in populations, methodologies, question phrasing, and other factors.

Organization of the Report and Data Sources
This report presents a selection of indicators that provide a broad perspective on youth; it uses trend data that cover material across disciplines and agency lines and provides information on both positive and negative aspects of the youth experience. These measures are examined in six chapters: Demographics, School-Related Characteristics, Employment-Related Characteristics, Activities Outside of School and Work, Health and Wellness, and Future Goals. Each indicator contains a table, figure, and brief text describing the types of comparisons one might reasonably make. A reference list of works cited and a guide to sources appear at the end of the report in appendix A. Standard error tables are available on the NCES website at

America's Youth: Transitions to Adulthood contains indicators that have been adapted from various other federal reports, as well as indicators that have been constructed specifically for this report from NCES and other sources. Measures published in previous editions of Youth Indicators constitute the basis for this volume; however, many new and substantially revised measures were designed to address emerging issues and take advantage of new databases or new features of surveys that were not available for previous editions. Many of the indicators in this report use published and unpublished data from other federal agencies and organizations, including the following:

  • U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau;
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
  • U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics;
  • U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics and Federal Bureau of Investigation;
  • Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment; and
  • University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

For all indicators in this report that report estimates based on samples, differences between estimates are stated only when they are statistically significant. To determine whether differences reported are statistically significant, two-tailed t tests at the .05 level are typically used. When the variables to be tested are postulated to form a trend, the relationship may be tested using linear regression. For more information, see Appendix A: Technical Note and Guide to Sources.

Classifications of Age Groups

America's Youth: Transitions to Adulthood focuses primarily on young people ages 14 to 24. This age range is referred to throughout the report as the "youth population." Within the youth population, this report discusses "youth" ages 14 to 17 and "young adults" ages 18 to 24. Due to differences in survey populations, these three general age categories vary slightly in certain tables. Each indicator specifies which population is being discussed in the table and text.

Definitions of Race and Ethnicity
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is responsible for the standards that govern the categories used to collect and present federal data on race and ethnicity. The OMB revised the guidelines on racial/ethnic categories used by the federal government in October 1997, with a January 2003 deadline for implementation (Office of Management and Budget 1997). The revised standards require a minimum of these five categories for data on race: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White. The standards also require the collection of data on the ethnicity categories Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. It is important to note that Hispanic origin is an ethnicity rather than a race; therefore, persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person's parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. The races White, Black, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native, as presented in this report, exclude persons of Hispanic origin unless noted otherwise.

These racial/ethnic categories are defined as follows:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.
  • Asian: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent (e.g., Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam).
  • Black or African American: A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
  • White: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.
  • Hispanic or Latino: A person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.

Within this report, some of the category names have been shortened. American Indian or Alaska Native is denoted as American Indian/Alaska Native; Black or African American is shortened to Black; and Hispanic or Latino is shortened to Hispanic. When discussed separately, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander is not shortened in the text, but is shortened in tables and figures to Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

The data in this report come from a number of sources. Many are federal surveys that follow the OMB standards for racial/ethnic classification described above; however, many sources have not fully adopted the standards. Since data sources vary in their reporting of race and ethnicity, this report focuses on the six categories that are the most common among data sources (i.e., the categories listed above). Asians and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders are combined into one category in tables for which the data were not collected separately for the two groups.

Some of the surveys from which data are presented in this report give respondents the option of selecting either an "other" race category, a "two or more races" or "multiracial" category, or both. Therefore, the remaining categories presented consist entirely of persons who identify as belonging to only one race or ethnicity. Where possible, tables present data on the "two or more races" category; however, in some cases, this category may not be separately shown, due to various data issues. The "other" category is generally not shown separately, with the exception of tables that use data from the National Health Interview Survey (see chapter 5, tables 41, 42, 43, and 48). For these tables, the category "other races" includes Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, "other race," and unspecified multiple race respondents. Any comparisons made between persons of one racial/ethnic group to "all other racial/ethnic groups" include only the racial/ethnic groups shown in the indicator. In some surveys, respondents are not given the option of selecting two or more races. In these surveys, respondents of two or more races must select a single race category. Any comparisons between data from surveys that give the option to select more than one race and surveys that do not offer such an option should take into account the fact that there is a potential for bias if members of one racial group are more likely than members of the others to identify themselves as "two or more races."1 For postsecondary data, foreign students are counted separately and, therefore, are not included in any racial/ethnic category. Please see Appendix A: Technical Note and Guide to Sources at the end of this report for specific information on each of the report's data sources.
1 Such bias was found by a National Center for Health Statistics study that examined race/ethnicity responses to the 2000 census.  This study found, for example, that as the percentage of multiple-race respondents in a county increased, the likelihood of respondents stating Black as their primary race increased among Black/White respondents, but decreased among American Indian or Alaska Native/Black respondents (Parker et. al 2004).