The Youth Development Study, co-funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development continues to examine the consequences of work and other formative experiences in adolescence for the transition to adulthood, as well as the effects of experiences during this transition, for mental health, socioeconomic attainment, and multiple facets of behavioral adjustment. The research has important policy implications in view of the highly prevalent character of adolescent work and recent debates about the long-term significance of this trend for young people. This research was initiated to address the developmental and achievement-related consequences of employment during the adolescent years. The data were collected as part of the ongoing Youth Development Study, which has surveyed the youth nearly annually (exceptions: 1996, 2001, 2006, 2008) since 1988. Whereas developmental psychologists had warned about the dangers of youth employment, when this study was initiated little systematic longitudinal data were available to address the benefits and costs of early investment in the labor force. The major guiding hypothesis for the research was that employment in the teen years would have different consequences depending on the pattern of temporal investment in work (duration and intensity) and the quality of work experience.
To examine this issue, a panel of 1,139 students was selected randomly from those enrolled in the ninth grade in the St. Paul Public School District during the 1987-1988 academic year. On-site questionnaires were administered in each of the four years of high school, starting in the Spring of 1988. The surveys included detailed questions about students' work and volunteer experiences, as well as experiences in their family, school, and peer group, with an emphasis on the ways that working affected other life domains. Students rated their own intelligence and academic abilities compared to their peers and answered questions about mental health status, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and domestic responsibilities. Shorter surveys containing many of the same topics were administered to students in 1992, 1993, and 1994, and included questions about current family and living arrangements, and employment and volunteer activities. Later surveys included a range of topics, including school and work experiences, family relationships such as marital status and children, education level and career preparation, how the respondent learned of his or her job and their level of satisfaction with it, and economic support questions including income level and living expenses.
Students were randomly selected from a list of all ninth graders attending the St. Paul Public Schools in the Fall of 1987.