Family Problems and Youth Unemployment

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This study attempted to determine the extent to which family and personal characteristics relate to the employment situation of adolescents. Data were drawn from the Utrecht Study of Adolescent Development (USAD), which investigated, longitudinally, a national sample of Dutch youths aged 12 to 24 years in 1991. Specifically, two waves of a sample of 955 non-school-going respondents between 18 and 27 years old were analyzed. Parental divorce, parental unemployment (only for males), low parental affective involvement, and adolescent relationship problems were related to youth unemployment, but educational career and work commitment were not. For males, parental unemployment demonstrated the strongest correlation with youth unemployment. For females, only variables in the relational domain played a role in explaining unemployment; relationship variables were also important predictors of male unemployment. The results suggest that the family factors included in this study are better predictors of youth unemployme nt than are the classic individual (personal) variables.

In almost all European countries, young people--defined as those under 25 years old--have experienced higher rates of unemployment than have other age groups. The youth unemployment rate in 1993 exceeded 30% in Italy, Spain, and Finland, compared with 13.3% in the United States, 18% in Canada, and only 5% in Japan. Only the few European countries with a traditionally strong apprenticeship system--Austria, Germany, and Switzerland--succeeded in maintaining low youth unemployment rates (Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, 1994).

Youth unemployment is recognized as a serious societal problem, but it also has other repercussions. Because the work environment provides opportunities for learning, showing initiative, and developing social contacts and self-reliance (Warr et al., 1985; Warr, 1987), unemployment can be expected to have a negative impact on the growth, and even mental health, of the individual. Adolescents are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of unemployment.

Adolescence is an important life stage in terms of psychosocial development, particularly identity formation. Further, it usually involves a series of status passages. Young people may have to make the transition from high school to college, or from school to work, or from the parental home to a household of their own, or all of these (de Goede, de Klaver, Van Ophem, Verhaar, & de Vries, 1996). A delay in the transition from school to work may start a process of social exclusion that, for some adolescents, has long-term consequences (Te Grotenhuis, 1994).

Individual (personal) variables, such as education, sex, and age, are considered important predictors of youth unemployment. Three aspects of the educational career seem to be relevant to a person's position in the labor market: the level of education, the specialization, and the diploma obtained. Continued schooling is frequently mentioned as a solution to unemployment. It is generally believed that greater education (vocational or university) will lead to better job opportunities. Beker and Merens (1994), however, reported that the lowest unemployment rates were among adolescents who had obtained a certificate of lower vocational training or a lower general secondary education. Adolescents with intermediate vocational training, higher general secondary education, or a pre-university education had the next best rates, followed by adolescents with higher vocational training. University students had a relatively bad position in the labor market, a phenomenon that is fairly new. Nevertheless, adolescents enteri ng the labor market without any certificate or diploma have great problems in finding a job. Furthermore, many courses of study with a majority of female students (exceptions include medicine and nursing) lead to a relatively weak position in the labor market (Rapportage Arbeidsmarkt, 1991). …