High school jobs: Impact differs for whites and minorities

January 24, 2013
Diane Swanbrow

Mechanic training apprentices in workshop (stock image)ANN ARBOR—African-American and Hispanic students are less likely than whites to work part-time in high school, according to a University of Michigan study. But those who do hold jobs tend to work longer hours, and are less likely to suffer negative consequences.

Those are among the findings of a new analysis of data on nearly 600,000 10th- and 12th-grade students, collected between 1991 and 2010 as part of the Monitoring the Future Study conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research. The analysis was published online in Developmental Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association. Monitoring the Future is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health.

“Working more than 15 hours a week is associated with problems for most students,” said ISR researcher Jerald Bachman, the study’s lead author. “These include lower grades and higher use of cigarettes, alcohol, and illicit drugs. But this pattern does not hold true among some minority students, especially those from less advantaged backgrounds.”

Overall, white students were more likely than minority students to report working during the school year, the study found. Among 10th graders, 43 percent of white students worked, compared with 29 percent of African-Americans, 31 percent of Hispanics and 26 percent of Asian-Americans. Among 12th graders, 72 percent of white students worked, compared with 57 percent of African-Americans, 59 percent of Hispanics and 53 percent of Asian-Americans.

But African-American and Hispanic students who held jobs were more likely than whites or Asian-Americans to report working more than 25 hours a week, the analysis showed. Among 12th graders who worked, for example, 18 percent of Asian-Americans, 22 percent of whites, 31 percent of African-Americans and 32 percent of Hispanics reported working more than 25 hours a week.

Average grade point averages among white and Asian-American students dropped dramatically as the number of hours they worked increased, but the GPAs of Hispanics and African-Americans showed less connection with the hours they worked, according to the report.

“Arguably, affluent kids have the least need to work during their student days,” Bachman said. “When they do work, they seem to suffer more in terms of grades and substance use. At least this is true for white and Asian-American students, whereas spending long hours on the job appears to be less harmful for African-American and Hispanic students.”

The reasons for this divergent impact remain unclear, but one reason may be that African-American and Hispanic teens, especially those who live in poor urban neighborhoods, have a harder time finding work, Bachman suggests.

“When they are able to land jobs, those jobs may require them to work longer hours,” he said.

The study does not prove a direct causal link between working longer hours and poor grades or substance use problems, Bachman says.

“Many kids who wind up working long hours already show evidence of some problems before they start working,” he said. “But this certainly doesn’t rule out the possibility that long hours of work can add to the problems.”

So what should parents and students do?

“First, the large bulk of research in this area suggests that students should avoid long hours of work in part-time jobs during the school year,” Bachman said. “Ideally, they should work 15 hours a week or less. Secondly, those who do work should try to build credentials as bright, courteous and motivated workers.

“As soon as they start new jobs, students should tell employers and supervisors that they hope to earn a good letter of recommendation. Saying that right at the outset will help everyone see the job as an important opportunity for growth and ‘real world’ education.”

Bachman’s co-authors are Jeremy Staff of Pennsylvania State University and Patrick O’Malley and Peter Freedman-Doan of U-M.


Related Link:


Established in 1949, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research is the world’s largest academic social science survey and research organization, and a world leader in developing and applying social science methodology, and in educating researchers and students from around the world. ISR conducts some of the most widely cited studies in the nation, including the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, the American National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, the world’s largest digital social science data archive. For more information, visit the ISR website at www.isr.umich.edu.