ABSTRACT

It is generally believed that disadvantaged youth-defi ned here as those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, those with low levels of education, and those from racial and ethnic minority groups-often fi nd themselves trapped on trajectories characterized by “cumulative disadvantage,” whereby disadvantages in childhood contribute to disadvantages later in the life course and, perhaps, even grow more acute over time. Such disadvantages include poor educational training in low-quality schools, residence in poor and segregated neighborhoods, and restricted access to health care and useful social networks, to name a few. By the time youth in such circumstances complete high school, if in fact they do, they have eff ectively been excluded from the kinds of social resources that are necessary for them to close the gap between themselves and those from more privileged backgrounds. The reality of that gap comes into full focus for these youth when, after leaving high school, they must choose a trajectory to economic independence (a major transition into adulthood) and fi nd that some pathways are closed to them.