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Choosing Our Future: A Story of Opportunity in America

Percent of 24- to 28-Year-Olds with a Bachelor's Degree or Higher in 2008 by Skills and Family Income

Skills are reported by quintiles based on scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)

Family income is reported based on income status in 1997

Source: Andrew Sum, October 2013, presentation to Opportunity in America panel.

Transcript

Narrator:

These data demonstrate the compounding effect of advantage or disadvantage by highlighting how family income and individual skills are associated with the probability of attaining a college degree or higher.

Column F displays the percent of 24- to 28-year-olds in 2008 who had obtained a Bachelor's degree or higher by their family income status in 1997. It shows that those percentages range from 7.1 percent for children living in poverty in 1997, to 48.1 percent for those living in families with incomes at least four times the poverty level in 1997. Stated another way, children living in families with incomes at least 4 times poverty in 1997 were about 7 times as likely to have obtained a Bachelor's degree or higher by the age of 24-28 than children living at poverty

This highlighted row shows the percentage of 24- to 28-year-olds who obtained a Bachelor's degree or higher by skill level as determined by performance on the ASVAB, a standardized measure of cognitive skills including reading and math. Those at the highest skill levels were over 23 times as likely to have obtained a Bachelor's degree or higher by the age of 24-28 than those at the lowest skill levels.

The factors that lead to accumulated advantage or disadvantage do not tend to operate in isolation. In this case, the combined impact of income and skills can be seen by looking along the diagonal in the table. Just over 1 percent of children living in poverty in 1997, who also demonstrated low skills as young adults, obtained a Bachelor's degree or higher by the age of 24-28. In contrast, over 72 percent of children living with a family with income at least 4 times poverty who demonstrated high skills as young adults obtained a Bachelor's degree or higher by the age of 24-28. So those with the highest family income and skills in 1997 were 60 times more likely to obtain a Bachelor's degree or higher by the age of 24-28 than their peers who lived in poverty and had poor skills. The combination of income and skills is thus more than additive – it provides a multiplicative impact that greatly affects the odds of college completion.