Add Health Wave IV Contextual Database: The Transition to Adulthood in Context

Raymond Swisher
Karen Benjamin Guzzo
Kelly Balistreri

The overarching goal of this application is to generate a new Wave IV contextual database for the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). The new database will include updates of highly utilized measures from prior Add Health contextual databases, as well as additional variables applicable to those in their late 20s and early 30s, at the census tract, county, and state levels. The resulting data will then be archived, advertised and made available to all Add Health users. The addition of the Wave IV contextual data will extend prior work which examined the role of social contexts during adolescence and the early transition to adulthood. Contextual influences continue to be important as individuals solidify their adult statuses in their late 20s and early 30s, so the lack of a contextual database for Wave IV limits its utility and presents a missed opportunity for researchers to use Add Health to address the call by the public health community (U.S. DHHS, 2010) and the NIH to assess the influence of social, economic, political, policy, and physical environ-ments on well-being and behavior.  A further aim of the proposed project is to use the new database to better understand how contextual factors—the social, economic, and physical environment—may be of particular importance during the transition to adulthood. This project will examine racial and ethnic variation in the transition to adulthood as young adults adopt more permanent adult statuses in their late 20s and early 30s, using four waves of data from Add Health. While there is research on education, employment, marriage, and parenthood transitions, this body of work often fails to fully consider the contexts within which these transitions occur. This is a major omission, as concentrated poverty has reasserted itself as a critical social problem, with a dramatic rise since 2000 (Kneebone, Nadeau, & Berube, 2011). We propose to explore how transitions in young adult are embedded within local (e.g., neighborhood disadvantage), intermediate (e.g., marriage and labor markets), and distal social contexts (e.g., state social safety nets and political context). Using growth curve modeling and latent transition analysis, we adopt a dynamic approach to assess the degree to which inequalities in pathways across racial and ethnic subgroups are attributable to differences in contextual factors. This project aligns well with the goals of Population Dynamics Branch and Healthy People 2020 by focusing on dynamic contextual influences on behavior and well-being over the life course, and by examining the race and ethnic disparities in the transition to adulthood. This project has a high impact and will serve the needs of a multidisciplinary group of researchers and contribute to our understanding of how context helps and hinders the progression from adolescence into adulthood. Identifying how contextual factors influence the chances of making a successful transition to adulthood is a vitally important step in meeting the goals that all children and individuals have the opportunity to achieve their full potential for healthy and productive lives.