Early Life Choices Do Correlate to Personal Affluence

Yes, a tough job market and bad public policy can explain why some millennials are in poverty, but the order in which we make life's choices has a major impact on the chances of ending up poor.

To say that not everyone who marries is wealthy does not mean that marriage does not reduce poverty. It's a controversial thought, and not meant to be "old-fashioned," but there's something to be said for putting marriage before the baby carriage.

Millennials don't need to reinvent every wheel, especially the ones that are working, and as evidence would have it, some tried and true behaviors actually do make life better.

Hence, the endurance of the "success sequence," which says young people on a life path are going to have a substantially easier go of it if they follow life's choices in order — first education, then marriage, then families of their own.

So says a study by Wendy Wang and Brad Wilcox, which they discuss in a new article.

Brookings scholars Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill have identified the “success sequence,” through which young adults who follow three steps—getting at least a high school degree, then working full-time, and then marrying before having any children, in that order—are very unlikely to become poor. In fact, 97 percent of millennials who have followed the success sequence are not in poverty by the time they reach the ages of 28 to 34.

Sequence-following millennials are also markedly more likely to flourish financially than their peers taking different paths; 89 percent of 28-to-34 year olds who have followed the sequence stand at the middle or upper end of the income distribution, compared with just 59 percent of Millennials who missed one or two steps in the sequence. The formula even works for young adults who have faced heavier odds, such as millennials who grew up poor, or black millennials; despite questions regarding socioeconomic privilege, our research suggests that the success sequence is associated with better outcomes for everyone. For instance, only 9 percent of black millennials who have followed the three steps of the sequence, or who are on track with the sequence (which means they have at least a high school degree and worked full-time in their twenties, but have not yet married or had children) are poor, compared with a 37 percent rate of poverty for blacks who have skipped one or two steps. Likewise, only 9 percent of young men and women from lower-income families who follow the sequence are poor in their late twenties and early thirties; by comparison, 31 percent of their peers from low-income families who missed one or two steps are now poor.

It doesn't seem like rocket science to conclude that pooling resources, support from kinship networks, and other forms of united stands make it easier to get by. And all evidence shows that single parents and those who pay child support are more likely to end up in poverty than those who stay in a married union. Guess the trick is to find someone you can stand to walk with through life.

Comments
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sconnell1791
sconnell1791

@runnergirl12 If more funding would solve the issue, I think we would have solved it by now. Over the past several decades, the government has continuously put more and more money into the education system, but the results have been stagnant at best. Something more is needed, and I don't think it's tangible or financial. I'd point to what Thomas Sowell once noted:

“Redistribution of material resources has a very poor track record when it comes to actually helping those who are lagging, whether in education, in the economy or elsewhere. What they need are the attitudes, priorities and behavior which produce the outcomes desired.”

We can take more tax money and send it to low socio-economic areas, but unless the attitudes, priorities, and behaviors are there that produce good results, it will only be more money gone. The issue is much bigger than money, and it all goes back to breakdown of the family, which has particularly hit the black population extremely hard in the past 50+ years.

runnergirl12
runnergirl12

Not to be a Debbie Downer here, but a child's likelihood of financial stability is nearly always determined in the economic situation in which they were born. There are exceptions, of course, and the only way to combat this vicious cycle is to improve public schools and make Pell grants more widely available.

lbrindley
lbrindley

I agree with @csellison. I would also be interested in seeing the results of a similar study that focuses on college educated vs. non-college educated millennials.

csellison
csellison

It'd be interesting to see if starting families at a later age also correlates with better financial situations.

akelly
akelly

Interesting!

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