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Perceptions and Expectations of Youth With Disabilities  (NLTS2)
NCSER 2007-3006
September 2007

Distribution of Demographic Characteristics Across Disability Categories

Findings in this report are presented for youth with disabilities as a group and then are reported separately for youth in each federal special education disability category. When differences are significant, findings also are reported for youth who differ in age, gender, race/ethnicity, and household income. These bivariate analyses should not be interpreted as implying that a factor on which subgroups are differentiated (e.g., disability category) has a causal relationship with the differences reported. Further, readers should be aware that demographic factors (e.g., race/ethnicity and household income) are correlated among youth with disabilities, as well as being distributed differently across disability categories. Table B-5 presents demographic characteristics of youth with disabilities overall and within each disability category.62

Findings for the full sample of youth included in this report are heavily influenced by information provided by youth with learning disabilities, who constitute 63 percent of the weighted sample. Youth with mental retardation, emotional disturbances, or other health or speech/language impairments are 12 percent, 12 percent, 5 percent, and 4 percent of the weighted sample. The other seven categories together make up less than 6 percent of the weighted sample.

This report represents youth who are in the 16- to 20-year-old age range. Fewer youth are at the older than younger end of the age range; 19 percent are 19- to 20-year-olds and 30 percent are 16-year-olds (p < .01). Youth are distributed across the disability categories in a similar pattern within each disability category, with one exception. Youth with speech/language impairments tend to be younger; 44 percent of youth in this category are 16-year-olds, compared with 30 percent of youth overall (p < .01).

Whereas about half of youth in the general population are male (51 percent),63 almost two-thirds of youth with disabilities (63 percent) are male (p < .001). Youth with different disability classifications differ in their gender balance when compared with youth with disabilities overall. Almost 9 in 10 youth with autism (89 percent) are male (vs. 63 percent, p < .001). In contrast, fewer than half of those with hearing impairments are male (48 percent vs. 63 percent, p < .01).

Youth with disabilities differ from those in the general population in their racial/ethnic backgrounds. They are disproportionately likely to be African American, relative to the general population; African Americans comprise 15 percent of youth in the general population64 but 22 percent of youth with disabilities (p < .01). Youth with mental retardation are more likely to be African American than are youth with disabilities as a group (38 percent vs. 22 percent, p < .01). Those with other health impairments are less likely to be African American (11 percent, p < .01) and, conversely, more likely to be White, relative to youth with disabilities overall (77 percent vs. 62 percent, p < .01).

Table B-5: Demographic characteristics, by disability category

Youth with disabilities are more likely than those in the general population to live in households with lower income levels. Almost two in five youth with disabilities (36 percent) included in this report live in households with incomes of $25,000 or below, in comparison, 29 percent65 of their peers in the general population live in low-income-level households (p < .01). There are few significant differences by disability category in comparison with household incomes of youth with disabilities overall, with the exception that youth with hearing (20 percent) and other health impairments (20 percent) are less likely to live in households with incomes of less than $25,000 than are youth with disabilities as a group (p < .01 and p < .001, respectively).


62 See Wagner et al. (2003) for relationships of demographic factors and disability categories for the full NLTS2 sample.

63 General population data computed for 16- through 20-year-olds, using United States Census Bureau 2000 data.

64 See footnote 5.

65 See footnote 5.