Employment during Adolescence Is Associated with Depression, Inferior Relationships, Lower Grades, and Smoking

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ABSTRACT

A self-report questionnaire was administered to high school seniors to collect data on the psychological, behavioral, and social aspects of their lives. It was found that employment was associated with (1) greater depression; (2) inferior relationships with parents and best friend, including less time and physical contact with parents; (3) lower grade point average; and (4) smoking.

Adolescents are often employed part-time during the school year (Bachman & Schulenberg, 1993; Mortimer, Finch, Ryu, & Shanahan, 1996), and frequently by their senior year, they are working more than 20 hours a week (Steinberg & Dornbusch, 1991). A review of the literature reveals that adolescent employment has both positive and negative effects (Mael, Morath, & McLeelan, 1997; Mihalic & Elliot, 1997). Positive effects of adolescent employment include a stronger sense of personal efficacy and orientation to occupational achievement (Mael et al., 1997; Mihalic & Elliot, 1997). However, working has also been associated with negative aspects of adolescents psychological, behavioral, and social well-being. For example, working adolescents, especially girls, have been found to be notably more depressed (Shanahan, Finch, Mortimer, & Ryu, 1991; Steinberg & Dornbusch, 1991). Working adolescents have also been noted to experience inferior relationships with their parents, which may be related to spending less time with their families (Sayfer, Hawkins-Leahy, & Colan, 1995; Steinberg & Dornbusch, 1991). In addition to less family time, they have less time to spend on homework, which may result in a lower grade point average (Mihalic & Elliot, 1997). Further, it has been reported that working adolescents engage in substance abuse more frequently than adolescents who do not work during high school (Mihalic & Elliot, 1997; Steinberg & Dornbusch, 1991).

In the present study, all of these effects were explored in the same sample. Nonworking adolescents were compared with adolescents who worked at least two hours per week. Working was expected to affect mood, parent and peer relationships, and academic achievement.

METHOD

Participants

Eighty-nine high school seniors (52 females, 37 males; mean age = 17.2 years) were recruited from a suburban South Florida high school. Eighty questionnaires were subsequently completed. Participants' ethnic distribution was 75% Caucasian, 11% Hispanic, 5% Asian, and 4% African-American, with the remaining 5% classifying themselves as other. Their socioeconomic status was middle to upper middle class. Fifty-two percent reported that they did not work, 20% worked 2--6 hours per week, and 28% worked more than 7 hours per week. Chi-square analyses revealed that the nonworking and working (2 hours or more per week) groups were not differentially distributed by gender or ethnicity (see Table 1).

Procedure

Participants were administered a Likert-type questionnaire that gathered information on psychological, behavioral, and social aspects of adolescent life (Field & Yando, 1991). The questionnaire was completed anonymously.

Depression. The Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977) contains twenty depressive symptoms experienced over the past week (e.g., "I felt lonely"), which are rated on a four-point Likert scale (0 = rarely or none of the time, 1 = some or a little of the time, 2 = a lot of the time, and 3 = most of the time). This scale has been standardized for high school populations, with a score of 19 or higher indicating depressed mood (Radloff, 1991). Acceptable test-retest reliability (.80--.90) and concurrent validity have been reported across a variety of demographic characteristics, including age, education, and ethnic groups (Wells, Klerman, & Deykin, 1987).

Relationships. The 24-item Intimacy Scale (Blyth & Foster-Clark, 1987) assesses mother, father, and best friend relationships. …