Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

First-Generation College Graduates Lag Behind Their Peers on Key Economic Outcomes


The analysis of adult educational attainment, educational debt and factors underlying educational decisions is based on the 2019 Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED). This annual survey has been sponsored by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors since 2013. The 2019 survey was fielded in October 2019 and was administered online. The universe for the SHED is adults and it is designed to be representative of the noninstitutionalized, civilian population age 18 and older. An advantage of the SHED in comparison to the Survey of Consumer Finances is a larger sample size. The 2019 SHED had about 12,200 respondents, of which about 7,400 were adults age 22 to 59. The SHED is not designed to precisely measure income and does not collect details on the adult’s assets and liabilities in comprehensive fashion. The 2019 SHED did include a battery of questions on educational debt and repayment status.

The household income, wealth, and inheritance analysis is based on the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) that is sponsored by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the Department of the Treasury. It has been conducted every three years since 1983 and is designed to provide detailed information on the finances of U.S. families. The 2019 SCF sample has approximately 3,500 families headed by those age 22 to 59. The sampling unit in the SCF is the “primary economic unit” (PEU), not the household. As stated by the Federal Reserve Board, “the PEU is intended to be the economically dominant single person or couple (whether married or living together as partners) and all other persons in the household who are financially interdependent with that economically dominant person or couple.” 

Household incomes are adjusted for the number of people in a household using the methodology from Pew Research Center’s previous work on the American middle class. That is done because a four-person household with an income of, say, $50,000, faces a tighter budget constraint than a two-person household with the same income.

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