Social Psychology of Education

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 81-102

First online:

Early Adult Outcomes of Students at “Risk”

  • Alan C. KerckhoffAffiliated withDuke University
  • , Lorraine BellAffiliated withDuke University

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It is commonly assumed that students from disadvantaged backgrounds often drop out of school and that dropping out necessarily leads to low educational attainment and negative labor force outcomes. Using data from the High School and Beyond sophomore cohort from the years 1980 to 1992, this paper assesses the validity of that assumed sequence of educational and labor force outcomes. The analysis is organized around the hypothesis that it is not just dropping out of school but also later actions taken by the students who are at risk that explain their poor early adult outcomes. Comparisons are made between those with many of the specified risk characteristics and those with none of them. For both educational attainment and earnings, the later contingent actions explain more of the difference between high-risk and “no-risk” students than being a high school dropout does. The results show the importance of examining the role of career contingencies and taking multiple life domains into account.