Date of Award

Spring 1999

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Sally K Ward


Most gender theory and research focuses on two points in the life course: childhood and middle adulthood. Less attention is given to the period in between. The purpose of this dissertation is to determine whether and how the transition to adulthood is gendered. To what extent do school, family, and labor market contexts have a different effect on adolescent girls and boys as they become adults?

Using data from the High School and Beyond 1980 Sophomore Cohort Study (1980--1992), 1 examine how social context differentially affects the plans for the future and adult status outcomes of young women and men. The adult status outcomes are union formation, becoming a parent, achieving residential independence, educational attainment, and occupational status attainment. I also determine whether self-esteem in adolescence has a different effect on these outcomes. I use probit, ordered probit, ordinary least squares, and two stage least squares regression.

My findings indicate that some aspects of the transition to adulthood are gendered. However, the differential effects of social context and other factors are not as numerous or as consistent as we would expect based on the premise of gender theory that gender is a pervasive, organizing framework embedded in all social processes and institutions. I find that adolescent girls' expected timing of childbearing and socioeconomic plans are not interdependent. This was true for adolescent boys as well. A significant relation between the expected timing of marriage and childbearing indicates that adolescent girls are cognizant of their "biological clock" and expect to bear a child sooner than adolescent boys when both plan to delay marriage. I also find that school context is more likely to have a different effect on women's and men's socio-economic outcomes whereas family context is more likely to gender family formation outcomes. I conclude that self-esteem in adolescence is relatively unimportant to adult outcomes.

To make sense of these findings, I articulate a theory of the transition to adulthood as a gendered process by explaining the occasions when gender influenced the process as well as when it did not.