For parents and educators, it’s a reminder to maintain strong relationships with teenaged students, while acknowledging their valid concerns about securing a stable, profitable job in adulthood. Supportive adults can help teens develop a sense of how high school can connect to their personal goals and futures.
A Study on Young People’s Job Market Pessimism
While other studies have explored the link between the labor market and high school graduation rates, this new research is the first to look at how young people's perceptions of the job market affects the way they study and plan while still in high school — habits that are key for success throughout adulthood.
The researchers, led by developmental psychologist Nancy Hill, surveyed 624 ninth, 10th, and 11th graders in an economically and racially diverse public high school. Sixty-two percent of the students identified as Euro-American, 18 percent as African American, 10 percent as Asian American, and 9 percent as Latino. Half of the students’ parents had a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The surveys asked students to gauge four measures:
- Job market pessimism: The degree to which students viewed the job market as unstable, and how unavailable they thought jobs were to workers
- Academic engagement: How mindful and planful students were about studying and completing coursework
- Parenting practices: How much students’ parents supported their learning, linked education to future success, promoted and scaffolded independence, and gave useful advice about school
- School-based relationships: How supported students felt by their teachers, and how much the students felt like they belonged at their school
Across the board, students who were more pessimistic about the job market were less academically engaged, found the researchers, who include the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Diamond Bravo and Mandy Savitz-Romer. But students were less pessimistic about the job market when their parents showed strong support for learning and gave good educational advice, and also when the students had stronger school-based relationships. (Parents linking education to future success and scaffolding independence were found to be ineffectual practices in these instances.)
Digging deeper, the findings are more nuanced:
- For all students, strong school-based relationships led to a negative association between job market pessimism and academic engagement.
- Parenting practices were more relevant for Euro-Americans than for students of color. For African American students, only school-based relationships were significantly related to academic engagement — not parenting practices or job market pessimism.
- The association between job market pessimism and academic engagement was stronger for students whose parents did not have a bachelor’s degree than it was for students whose parents had completed college.
- The negative impact of job market pessimism on engagement was more acute for students with stronger family and school supports — a surprising finding, because these are the students whom we often assume are less at risk for losing academic motivation.