The Role of Activity in Adolescent Development: A Study of Employment

Article excerpt

A considerable number of studies have concerned themselves with the issue of adolescent work values. Within the Australian context, O'Brien & Kabanoff (1979) found a significant difference between employed and unemployed groups, including youth groups, on work values. In contrast, both Tiggeman & Winefield (1980) and Turtle, Cranfield, Rogers, Reuman, & Williams (1978) found no difference.

Although differences in methodology, samples, length of unemployment, and prior history of employment may be used to explain this disparity (Gurney & Taylor, 1981), a consistent model of adolescent behavior has not been applied to these studies. Often, it seems, explanations for adolescent attitudes toward unemployment are couched in terms of work values, rather than adolescent development. Yet adolescence is the time that values concerning work and other social institutions are developed (Erikson, 1963). Thus, studies on adolescent or youth unemployment are really studies of the development of work values, rather than expressions of already developed values.

Some support for this proposition can be found from O'Brien and Kabanoff's study. They noted in their sample that compared to the older population, young people were less job involved as a whole. This indirect evidence suggests that work values are an emergent concern in the young adult, and may be much more easily influenced than similar values in the adult.

Shepherd (1981) discusses five functions of work. It serves to structure and organize time, provides social contacts and rewards, and provides self-esteem. Work can provide feelings of achievement and satisfaction and, finally, work results in earning an income.

Work can be seen to have a central role in establishing a structure for the adolescent emerging into an adult world. It represents a readily available and highly valued way of ordering behavior. This is presumed to occur through the production of planned and purposeful activity. Thus, it seems logical to propose, that events which disturb this ordering should affect the development of values in the adolescent. It is in this context that a study by Isralowitz and Singer (1986) becomes important. They investigated the impact of unemployment on the formation of work values in adolescents by examining the effect of the employment status of the adolescents' parents. They concluded that the "valuing of new experiences," and the ability to engage in such experiences, was an important component in the understanding of the effects of unemployment on youth.

In this regard activity is an important concept. Furnham (1981) showed that activity and activity preferences were related to personality development. Inasmuch as work is a major source of activity in day-to-day life, activity, theoretically, should moderate the effects of unemployment. The availability of work (or suitable alternatives) becomes an important aspect in the development of the adolescent. The following discussion is based on evidence collected in 1982. The effects of employment and unemployment on an adolescent sample, and the hypothesis that activity levels would act to moderate the effects of unemployment were explored. In addition, other personality variables such as trait and state indicators of anxiety and depression, self-esteem, locus of control, and work values were investigated.


It was hypothesized that (1) Activity levels would discriminate between the employed and the unemployed. It was predicted that the unemployed would record lower levels of activity. (2) That the activity variable would be associated with personality measures of self-esteem and mood measures. It was predicted that higher levels of activity would result in higher levels of self-esteem and less mood disturbance. It was additionally predicted that higher activity levels would be associated with more internal locus of control. (3) It was predicted that an interaction effect between employment status and activity would be found such that the unemployed would have lower levels of activity and higher indices of disturbance on the test data. …


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