likely than their middle-class counterparts to earn money illegally in the underground economy (e.g., from theft, drug sales, prostitution) (Wilson, 1987, 1996)—which is more dangerous than legal employment—although this phenomenon cannot be traced in national surveys.
Although good employment experiences may be particularly beneficial for disadvantaged youngsters, working may sometimes lead them away from school. For those who are initially less interested or involved in school or whose poor performance in school threatens their self-esteem, working may present an alternative that may become more attractive than maintaining the student role. Tienda and Ahituv (1996), using data from the NLSY, show that an increase in work effort (average weekly hours of work) at 18 years of age has a negative effect on the probability of college enrollment, especially among youth whose mothers did not complete high school. In the High School and Beyond study, only high-risk youth (defined by below-average socioeconomic status, low test scores, and low parental monitoring) were less likely to complete high school if they worked very long hours (more than 29 hours per week in their sophomore year). However, at-risk youth who worked 15 hours or more during their sophomore year in high school also had higher earnings 10 years later (Chaplin and Hannaway, 1996).
Whether working has positive or negative consequences for young people is a complex question. Employment is such a multifaceted phenomenon that many factors must be considered, including the broader contexts in which youth work (e.g., urban or rural), the intensity of their work, and the quality of their work experience. Moreover, there are many potential outcomes of employment, some positive and some negative.
The conclusions that can be drawn from the scientific literature are limited by the fact that all the studies involve correlational rather than experimental studies. However, researchers will certainly never be able to randomly assign young people to various work conditions, in order to conclusively show whether or not work causes certain outcomes. Well-designed correlational studies with good statistical controls for pre-existing differences among students who work at different intensities, such as those reviewed in this chapter,