In a large study of over 600,000 students from across the country, researchers found that African-American and Hispanic students often work longer hours than their non-Hispanic counterparts.
But the study also found that despite working these longer hours, these students’ grades don’t suffer nearly as much as among white and Asian-American students who work similar hours.
“We know from previous research that for most students, working more than 15 hours a week is associated with various problems, including lower grades and substance use,” said the study’s lead author, Jerald Bachman, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan.
“However, what we’re finding with this new research is that this pattern does not seem to appear among some minority students, particularly those who come from a less advantaged background.”
Overall, white students were more likely than minority students to report working during the school year, according to the study.
Among 12th graders, 72 percent of white students worked compared with 57 percent of African-Americans, 59 percent of Hispanics and 53 percent Asian-Americans.
However, although white students were more likely than other students to work, African-American and Hispanic students who held jobs were more likely to report working more than 25 hours per week.
Specifically, while only 18 percent of Asian-Americans and 22 percent of whites reported working more than 25 hours a week, 31 percent of African-Americans and 32 percent of Hispanics did — a significant difference.
Grade point averages among white and Asian-American students dropped dramatically the more hours they worked. The GPAs of Hispanics and African-Americans, however, showed less connection with hours worked.
“Arguably, affluent kids have the least need to work during their student days,” said Bachman. “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 suggested.
“When they are able to land jobs, those jobs may require them to work longer hours,” he said.
These findings, like previous studies of this nature, do not prove there is a direct relation between working and poor grades or behavior, Bachman noted.
“Many kids who choose to work long hours already show evidence of some problems beforehand and may have a more ‘rebellious’ nature. But in our view, the evidence certainly does not rule out the possibility that the long hours of work add to the problems,” he said.
Bachman suggested that students should avoid spending a lot of time at work whenever possible. “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 and, ideally, they should work 15 hours a week or less,” he said.
“Second, those who do work should try to build a ‘credential’ as a bright, courteous and motivated worker. As soon as they begin new jobs, students should tell employers and supervisors that they hope to earn a good letter of recommendation. If they say that right at the outset, it will help everyone view the job as an important opportunity for growth and education.”
The study’s nationally representative sample consisted of 314,959 10th graders and 276,026 12th graders as part of the Monitoring the Future project.
These analyses were based on private and public school students who responded to surveys annually from 1991 through 2010. Students reported their average hours of work during the school year, their GPA and their levels of substance use, including cigarette smoking, pot smoking and alcohol consumption. Demographic information included gender, race/ethnicity, parental education and income, mother’s employment status and how often the student had been absent from school in the last month.
The study also found that black and Hispanic students from lower income households may be less inclined to smoke and drink than affluent non-Hispanic white or Asian-American students who work long hours.
The study was published online in the journal Developmental Psychology.