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It is impossible to discuss youth employment without taking into account the various levels of context within which it takes place. Youth work takes place in relation to the families and communities to which young people belong. It occurs in relation to the cultural norms and expectations that prevail among these families and communities, and it is defined largely by the economic circumstances that occur at any given historical period. Nevertheless, because individual

Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology,


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Circumstances vary greatly from one person to another, there can be considerable variation in how youth employment is defined and experienced, even when individuals share historical time and macrocontextual circumstances.

2.1. Historical Context of Youth Employment

In preindustrial societies, children and adolescents were integral to the economic survival of families. As early as they were able to perform any useful work, they were pressed into service, working side-by-side with adults, helping to produce food and to provide shelter and safety. As industrialization progressed, parents increasingly found work away from home, largely removing them as effective socialization-to-work agents. Adolescents were increasingly faced with the necessity of discovering their own path into the world of work and acquiring their own occupational identity and with it their independence. Moreover, as industrialized nations became wealthier and their commerce became more complex, they required a more highly educated and trained workforce. As a result, education rather than labor began to occupy most children’s and adolescents’ time, and much of the education and training was explicitly designed to prepare youth for an ever-expanding variety of occupations.

2.2. Cultural and Socioeconomic Context of Youth Employment

As noted previously, youth employment varies not only by historical time but also by cultural and socioeconomic context. For example, in some cultures employment opportunities for males and females differ greatly. Accordingly, boys and girls are differentially socialized into early work experiences and they emerge with different expectations and aspirations about their future occupational careers. Economic necessity may also impact the nature and extent of youth employment. Thus, youth from poor socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to quit school and go to work to contribute to their own and their family’s economic survival. In contrast, youth employment is typically optional for youth from more privileged backgrounds, where it may be considered a step toward “growing up” or simply a “good experience.”


Although a fair amount has been written about the detrimental impact of child labor on children’s development, the impact of work on development in adolescence and early adulthood has not received adequate attention by researchers. This is surprising in view of the fact that most adolescents in the United States have a good deal of work experience by the time they graduate from high school. Data from the Monitoring the Future study at the University of Michigan indicate that approximately three-fourths of boys and girls work part-time while they are in high school, and of these, more than one-third work more than 20 hours per week. Flowever, researchers appear to be deeply divided on the issue of whether youth employment has generally positive or negative consequences for development.

3.1. Negative Effects of Youth Employment

When students are employed part-time, some energy and time that might be devoted to studying is diverted, creating the potential for compromised school performance and disrupted social relationships. Moreover, young part-time workers are more likely to be exposed to (and thus learn) negative adult attitudes toward working as well as other adult behaviors, such as smoking and drinking, which are viewed as problem behaviors when exhibited by adolescents. The causal direction of these negative attitudes and behaviors is unlikely to be the same in all cases, however. Some researchers have found that poor school performance and adult-like behaviors precipitate early entrance into the labor force, whereas others have found that these behaviors follow part-time work, especially if it involves many hours per week. Contributing to this negative scenario is the fact that most youth employment opportunities occur in low-level work settings, such as fast-food establishments, or in low skill positions, such as janitor or clerk. Adolescents from low socioeconomic status families may get “stuck” in such low-level jobs and foreclose on any real opportunity to be occupationally upwardly mobile. Others may view working in these circumstances as completely unrelated to their aspirations and ultimate career destination, resulting in disinterest or cynical attitudes toward work in general.

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Literatura: Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology