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As Young Women Head to School and Work, More Men 'Disconnect'

Fewer young women are out of school and the labor force today than 50 years ago, but a larger percentage of young men have become disengaged in that time, according to a new study by the nonprofit group Junior Achievement.

The group uses U.S. Census data to track the percentages of young Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 who are "disconnected"—that is, neither enrolled in school nor employed. As of 2017, 4.5 million young adults fell into this category, including 12 percent of young men and 11 percent of young women.

That's a reversal from when the group first started tracking young people's engagement in 1970, when 28 percent of young women but only 9 percent of young men had disconnected from school and work.

Ed Grocholski, a spokesman for Junior Achievement, said while there have been strong trends over time of more young women going to college and joining the workforce, "for young men, it's not really very clear why you're not seeing more of a decline in that number over time."

Young adults with disabilities were a group of particular concern, he said. They are at the highest risk of becoming disconnected: 30 percent were neither employed nor enrolled in 2017, down only 1 percentage point from 2008 when they were first counted.

"It's just very disappointing that there has been a real effort to create opportunities for young people with disabilities, and for whatever reason you're not necessarily seeing those opportunities translate into an increase in participation in education or increased employment," he said.

There were some promising trends, though. About 20 percent of young people in poverty were also disconnected from school and work, a significant group but down from 30 percent in 1970. 

And while overall, young people from minority backgrounds are disproportionately likely to be out of work and education compared to white young adults, some groups are closing the gaps, as the chart below shows:


Regardless of other reasons, young people's disconnection often starts in school, as this StoryCorps conversation shows:


Do you have a question about education research, or just want to know what the evidence says about that pesky instructional problem? Let me know! Drop me a line at [email protected], or 

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