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Exploring New Life Course Patterns of Mother’s Continuing Secondary and College Education

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Abstract

A mounting body of evidence suggests that the life course sequence that once defined contemporary US women’s lives is changing as an increasing number of women now complete their education after the transition to motherhood. Despite such evidence, we know little about this changing pattern of life course events for many US women. The aim of this study, therefore, is to produce population-based estimates that describe the prevalence of mothers’ school reentry and secondary and college degree attainment, the timing of women’s post-childbearing education vis-à-vis their transition into motherhood, and the characteristics of mothers who pursue additional schooling. To do so, the study draws on data from a nationally representative cohort of US women participating in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (n = 4925) and descriptive and event-history techniques. Findings suggest that a substantial proportion of mothers (17 %) completed additional education after the transition to motherhood, especially mothers who had the lowest levels of education at their time of first birth (high school dropouts) (43 %). These mothers, who overwhelmingly earned high school degrees/GEDs, were most likely to do so within 5 years of giving birth, while mothers pursuing higher levels were more likely to do so when children were older. Mothers who pursued schooling after the transition to motherhood were remarkably more disadvantaged than women who followed the traditional sequencing of life course events. Compared to women who had the same education upon being mothers, they were also younger, more often poor, and had greater job instability but higher cognitive test scores.

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Correspondence to Jennifer March Augustine.

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Augustine, J.M. Exploring New Life Course Patterns of Mother’s Continuing Secondary and College Education. Popul Res Policy Rev 35, 727–755 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-016-9401-5

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