The Fruits of Good Work: Job Quality and Adolescent Deviance

Jeremy Staff, University of Minnesota
Christopher Uggen, University of Minnesota

Some theories of crime suggest that adult-like work conditions will diminish adolescent delinquency, whereas others suggest that a precocious entry into adult work roles will increase youth problem behaviors. We examine the relationship between early work quality and delinquency behavior by asking: (1) Does the quality of work affect adolescent deviance net of work hours and self-selection processes? (2) If so, are adult-like jobs harmful or beneficial for adolescents? And, (3) which employment dimensions are the most important for theory and research on crime and delinquency? We consider several adolescent employment characteristics, including learning opportunities, freedom and autonomy, status, demands and stress, wages, and the compatibility between work and school. The lowest rates of school misconduct, alcohol use, and arrest are observed among adolescents whose jobs supported rather than displaced academic roles and provided opportunities for them to learn new things. In contrast, many qualities of work considered desirable for adults (autonomy, social status, and wages) increase delinquency in adolescence. We conclude that the effects of work quality on delinquency are likely to be contingent on the life course stage of the worker.

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Updated 05/20/2006