Idle Hands: The Impact of Work and School on Juveniles


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Are jobs at McDonalds good for youth? (Image by the Consumerist).

Are jobs at McDonalds good for youth? Image by the Consumerist

Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.”  This phrase sums up a common view of youth and work.  But research on the effect of work and school on youth is not as clear.

A recent study by Kathryn C. Monahan of the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues reviewed longitudinal data on the effect of employment and school on antisocial behavior in juvenile delinquents.

The results are not as simple as the Puritans might have us believe.

Juvenile Offenders: Hours Worked

The number of hours worked affected the impact on the troubled youth in the study. Juvenile offenders who worked more than 20 hours a week were put in the “high intensity employment” group, while others were either unemployed or worked less than 20 hours a week, engaging in “low intensity employment.”

Overall, troubled youth who were employed fared better than the unemployed.

 School Attendance

Youth who did not attend school, or who attended school irregularly, had a worse outcome than those who attended school, regardless of number of hours worked.  Monahan noted, “Whereas the beneficial impact of attending school regularly (without working) is stronger among younger than older juveniles, the positive effects of high-intensity employment are only noted when youth are simultaneously attending school regularly.”  In other words, school attendance, particularly among young juveniles, has a stronger effect on outcome than being employed.

The author suggests that school attendance is more important when youth are younger, high school age or less,  due to the “normative” status of school attendance among all younger youth.  Older youth are less often in school in the community at large, so not participating in school was not unusual.

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