The Success Sequence
What is the Success Sequence? The “Success Sequence is a formula designed to identify a successful economic path for young adults. It was first identified by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead (a social historian) and Marline Pearson (a sociology professor).
The Success Sequence states that by taking the following three steps (in that order), men and women of all races and socio-economic backgrounds will have much lower poverty rates and much higher rates of middle-income status than those who do not complete the milestones:
- Get at least a high school degree
- Get a full-time job
- Get married before having children
Recent research indicates 97% of millennials who follow all three steps are not poor as adults. Additionally, 90% of young adults who complete the first two steps (graduate high school and get a full-time job) are not poor in their 30s. In comparison, half of adults in their 30s who missed all three steps (52%) are in poverty.
In 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services assessed the benefits of the Success Sequence for “Economic Self-Sufficiency”. It concluded that “Consistent with prior research, the analysis shows that high school completion, full-time employment, and marriage are all associated with an increased chance of avoiding poverty in young adulthood… Consequently, young adults with the lowest poverty rates are those who have completed some combination of high school, employment, and marriage.”
Disadvantaged Millennials. Of course, certain “disadvantages” make it more difficult for some young men and women to follow the three steps of the Success Sequence. But that is why following the formula is so critically important to those starting out with a “disadvantage”. The most recent research by Wendy Wang and Brad Wilcox* indicates for those following the Success Sequence, 96% of black millennials and 97% of Hispanic millennials are not poor in their mid-30s. Similarly, for those completing the 3 milestones, 94% of millennials who grew up in lower-income families, and 95% of those who did not grow up with both parents are also not poor in their mid-30s.
The Success Sequence also helps people move to the middle- or higher-income classes. Research shows that by their middle 30s, 80% of black adults and 86% of Hispanic adults who have followed the Success Sequence are in the middle- or higher-income classes (compared to 91% of white millennials). Similarly, 82% of millennials who grew up in lower-income families, and 84% of those who did not grow up with both parents are in the middle- or higher-income classes.
Women. Among millennials in their mid-30s, more women (15%) are in poverty than men (12%). For millennial women who have not completed all the Success Sequence milestones, 55% are in poverty (compared to 49% of men who also have not completed all 3 milestones). However, for those millennial women who have completed all steps of the Success Sequence, 97% are not in poverty by their mid-30s.
*Note: All of the statistics referenced above were taken from The Power of the Success Sequence for Disadvantaged Young Adults© (May 2022) by Wendy Wang and Brad Wilcox.
for further reading
- SUCCESS SEQUENCE: A SYNTHESIS OF THE LITERATURE a 2020 report by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Success Sequence: A Synthesis of the Literature (hhs.gov)
- The Power of the Success Sequence for Disadvantaged Young Adults The Power of the Success Sequence for Disadvantaged Young Adults | Institute for Family Studies (ifstudies.org)