Adolescent Work Intensity, School Performance, and Academic Engagement

Teenagers working more than 20 hours per week perform worse in school than youth who work less. There are two competing explanations for this association: (1) that paid work takes time and effort away from activities that promote achievement, such as completing homework, preparing for examinations, getting help from parents and teachers, and participating in extracurricular activities, and (2) that the relationship between paid work and school performance is spurious, reflecting preexisting differences between students in academic ability, motivation, and school commitment. Using longitudinal data from the ongoing national Monitoring the Future project, this research examines the impact of teenage employment on school performance and academic engagement during the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades. The authors address issues of spuriousness by using a two-level hierarchical model to estimate the relationships of within-individual changes in paid work to changes in school performance and other school-related measures. Unlike in prior research, the authors compare youth school performance and academic orientation when they are actually working in high-intensity jobs to when they are jobless and wish to work intensively. Results indicate that the mere wish for intensive work corresponds with academic difficulties in a manner similar to actual intensive work. © American Sociological Association 2010.