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July 19, 2000
Gender Differences in Jobs Start in Teens

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Labor Department Report: Half Of American Youngsters Have Work History

It's not the way it is supposed to be in the 21st century. Gender stereotypes are supposed to be history by now, with both sexes entering all sorts of jobs in equal proportions.

Unfortunately those days aren't quite hear yet, with implications for America's future workplace. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that nearly half of all 12-year-olds in this country have some employment experience, but right from the start, boys and girls go into different lines of work.

Start working early

"The American work ethic starts at an early age," Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman said. "For the first time, we have data on the work patterns of those as young as 12. Half of 12-year-olds do babysitting or lawn work, and the numbers go up from there: 57 percent of 14-year-olds and 64 percent of 15-year-olds have jobs.

For the most part, these are informal jobs that don't interfere with their school work."

The labor secretary said she hopes parents and teachers will take a closer look at the choices girls and boys make in their first jobs. "We want boys and girls to choose first jobs that are safe and legal and that lead to higher level skills, and eventually higher-paying jobs," she said.

A teen labor snapshot

The data on 12-16-year-olds comes from a longitudinal study that included detailed interviews with teens, which reported on their work experiences during the years they were 12, 13, 14 and 15. These detailed interviews were able to identify more of the informal jobs than traditional surveys, such as the Current Population Survey, which is used to gather data on everyone in a household. The CPS finds that just over one-third of all teens aged 15 to 17 have jobs. The new report provides this snapshot of young workers:

At 12, girls baby-sit and boys do yard work; at 14, both are working in food service and entertainment, but boys are cooks and cleaners while girls are waitresses and cashiers;

From ages 12 to 15, both boys and girls move from freelance to employee jobs, both during the school year and in the summer; however, 14 and 15-year-old males are more likely than females to have employee jobs.

Other characteristics

Teens worked an average of about 17 hours a week during the school months and 23 hours during the summer; boys work more hours than girls.

A large proportion of employed youth earn more than the minimum wage; in 1998 the median wage of 15-17-year-olds was $5.57 an hour.

White youth are more likely to have jobs than black or Hispanic youth; teens from two-parent households are more likely to have jobs than those from single-parent households; and teens from middle class families are more likely to have jobs than those from poor families.

Businesses seem to be doing a better job of complying with child labor laws: the total number of investigations in which the Labor Department found child labor violations decreased from a high of 5,889 in 1990 to 1,273 in 1998.

Safety issues

Teens may be working safer: lost workday injuries among youth declined 49 percent between 1992 and 1997.

Job-related fatalities among young workers occur disproportionately in family businesses and agriculture.

From 1979 - 1998, the proportion of youths holding a job and their hours of work has declined.

Impact on future employment

A growing number of young farm workers are male teens who are "de facto" emancipated minors, living and working on their own away from their families; they are falling behind academically.

Teens who work may fare better later: there is some correlation between working in the teen years and employment success later, but this may simply be because of personal characteristics of the young workers.

It pays to put school first: teens who work more than 20 hours a week during the school year are more likely to drop out of school or to have poor employment success later.

The information is contained in the department's just issued "Report on the Youth Labor Force." The report provides a detailed, overall look at youth labor in the United States, including regulations on child labor, current work experience of youth and how it has changed over time and the outcomes of this experience.


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