WHY U.S. CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS WORK

Historically, children and adolescents left school (and sometimes home) to enter the work force at relatively early ages in order to help support their families and to be trained for the jobs they would hold as adults. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the vast majority of young people in the United States remain full-time students until age 18, and the jobs typically held by adolescents provide little or no systematic preparation for later careers. Yet, most adolescents in this country work while going to school, and many of their parents, and adults in general, believe that working exerts a positive influence on adolescents (Aronson et al., 1996; Greenberger and Steinberg, 1986; Phillips and Sandstrom, 1990).

I am working basically so I would have my own money.

High school student, Youth panel for the committee

Little research has been done on why children and adolescents seek paying jobs, but the primary reason seems to be money. Whether the money young people earn goes toward helping pay family bills or toward their own needs, income, rather than the work experience, itself, seems the main motivating factor. Greenberger and Steinberg (1986) report that 74 percent of the employed high school students in their sample say money is the primary reason for having a job: About half of them say that the money is for necessities and half say it is for "extras." In a large national survey of high school seniors, a majority of the employed students said that they spent between half and all of their income on their own personal needs and activities (Johnston et al., 1982). More than 80 percent of high school seniors say that "none or only a little" of their earnings go toward family expenses (U.S. Department of Education, 1996). Similar responses were found in 1981, 1991, and 1992. Yeatts (1994) reports that 69 percent of working high school seniors spend some of their earnings for car expenses, 97 percent use their earnings to "buy things,'' and 44 percent save some for college. Having money of their own not only allows adolescents to purchase items for their own use, but it may also give them a sense of independence.



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