Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

Work Intensity and Substance Use among Adolescents Employed Part-Time in Entry-Level Jobs

Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

Work Intensity and Substance Use among Adolescents Employed Part-Time in Entry-Level Jobs

Article excerpt

Introduction

During the adolescent years, a large number of youth are employed in a variety of work settings. Potential benefits of part-time employment include gaining valuable work experience and learning how to handle new responsibilities. Work experiences may also facilitate a sense of independence, identity development, and promote other developmental goals of adolescence. However, for some youth employment may provide increased opportunities to engage in risk behaviors. In fact, evidence is accumulating that there is a positive association between employment and substance use among young people in the workforce. Work intensity, the number of hours worked, has been found in several studies to be positively associated with tobacco use (1-4) and alcohol use (1,2,4,5).

A number of additional studies have identified subgroup differences in the relationship between work intensity and substance use. Some research has examined whether this relationship depends on the specific substance examined. Although the findings are mixed, there is some evidence that the link between work intensity and alcohol use is stronger than the corresponding link with tobacco use (6). Other researchers have identified differences in the relationship between work intensity and substance use according to race/ethnicity and/or gender. Johnson (7) found that more hours worked was positively associated with substance use among white adolescents, but was not consistently related among minority adolescents. A small number of studies have examined gender differences, finding hours worked to be associated with cigarette smoking for white males, but not for white females (2), or a weaker association between work intensity and alcohol use for females, compared to males (1).

In order to fully understand the relationship between work intensity and substance use, it is important to recognize that workplaces and job types are likely to differ in a number of relevant ways. Indeed, as stated by Zimmer-Gembeck and Mortimer (8) -The experience of adolescent work, including tasks and responsibilities, rewards, workplace relationships, and the meanings of these experiences, take fundamentally different forms in distinct historical, sociocultural, institutional, and social class contexts". Some work contexts provide the opportunity to develop work-related technical skills, interpersonal skills in areas such as management and conflict resolution, and/or provide extensive adult mentorship and supervision, and these positions may be associated with less antisocial behavior (9). Some youth that work in family-owned businesses have been found to use substances less than others (10). On the other hand, many employers hire large numbers of young people for unskilled or low-skilled labor for relatively brief periods of time and therefore may be less likely to provide training, mentorship, or adult supervision. Adolescents whose work experiences do not provide opportunities for skill development and/or access to adult role models or mentors, such as in the low-wage retail and service positions commonly available to adolescents, may be at greater risk for substance use. For example, youth employed in lowwage, service sector jobs have been found to have a heightened risk for delinquency (11).

In light of this, it is important to more closely examine not only the extent of employment and its relation to adolescent problem behavior, but also investigate this relationship in particular workplace contexts. A limitation of most studies on this topic is that they draw from large national databases (i.e., National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health) and/or school-based samples, in which youth are employed in a variety of industries and job types. A goal of the present study is to examine the relationship between work intensity and substance use in a particular work setting/industry among employees of a common job type - that is, entry-level, low-skilled, part-time positions in a large supermarket chain. …

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