Tracking women's transition to adulthood: High school experiences, race/ethnicity, and the early life course outcomes of schooling
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractHigh schools are key settings for adolescent development, yet life course scholars have not fully examined how schools shape transitions to adulthood. Schools are important for socializing youth, but most education research examines cognitive outcomes, like test scores, rather than behavioral outcomes, like welfare receipt. Theories about transitions to adulthood and the role of curricular tracking each focus on racial/ethnic differences, but there is little connection between the two areas of inquiry. This study explores racial/ethnic variation in the effect of curricular tracking on women's risk of young welfare receipt, and on behavioral outcomes I term the proximate causes of welfare --dropping out of high school, teenage motherhood, limited work experience, poverty, and single motherhood. In three distinct but theoretically connected essays, I study these relationships using a sample of black, Latina, and white women from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Chapter 2 examines racial/ethnic differences in the effect of college and vocational tracks on behavioral outcomes of schooling. College tracks reduce women's risk of experiencing the proximate causes of receipt, but these effects are much stronger for white women than for black and Latina women. Women of color have lower risks of each of the proximate causes in vocational tracks and racial/ethnic inequality is greatest in college tracks. Chapter 3 considers whether racial variation in the effects of tracking influences pathways to welfare receipt. Tracking shapes welfare dynamics, and racial inequality in these effects is greatest in the college track. Whites benefit more from college track placement while women of color benefit more from vocational track coursework. Tracking influences welfare risks primarily through effects on teen motherhood and dropping out of school. Chapter 4 explores a mechanism through which racial/ethnic differences in the effect of tracking might operate: an "attitude-achievement paradox." Women with high educational expectations and limited preparation for college (as indicated by test scores) are extremely likely to become teen mothers. African American women are most buffered from teen motherhood risks in the vocational rather than the general or college tracks. In each section, I discuss the important theoretical and policy implications derived from these results.
Degree ProgramGraduate College