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Youth Early Employment and Behavior Problems: Human Capital and Social Network Pathways to Adulthood

August 2011

Wei-Jun Jean Yeung, National University of Singapore and University of Michigan and Emily Rauscher, New York University

Download '2011-24 NPC Working Paper.pdf'.


With unemployment at a long-time high, youth employment opportunities are dire. This paper draws data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to examine the relationship between youth employment and behavior problems. We depict the employment patterns of American youth aged 12 through 18 and find significant differences in employment rates and job characteristics between black and white youth. Conflicting hypotheses about mediating mechanisms through which youth employment shape children’s behavior are examined. We find that employment is associated with fewer behavior problems, but only when the jobs offer opportunities for human capital development and only when working moderate hours. Employment has a stronger impact on black than on white youth and the positive effect of work is mediated by positive peer influence. Findings support social and human capital theories and, more broadly, the social network/role model explanation for adolescent behavior. Implications in light of the current recession are discussed.

Child Well-being and Child Development, Employment, Unemployment, and the Labor Market, Race and Ethnicity