Part-time jobs have a negative effect on girls’ GCSE grades

31 March 2015

Girls who take on part-time work whilst studying could potentially be damaging their chances of GCSE success.

A new study from the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex also shows that longer hours of employment at ages 14 and 15 are associated with an increase in students’ take-up of risky behaviours such as smoking and drinking alcohol, an effect particularly noticeable in girls.

Dr Angus Holford assessed the impact that part-time work had on the time that teenagers spent doing other things, such as sport. He also compared study time with subsequent GCSE grades.

Overall, he found no effect of part-time jobs at age 14 or 15 for boys’ exam results, but a “significant negative effect of employment at age 15 for girls”. On average, an additional hour of paid work per week reduced girls’ GCSE performance by approximately one grade in one subject.

Girls with a job at age 15 work an average of six hours a week, meaning their part-time work is likely to reduce their results considerably – a grade lower in six subjects.

Part-time jobs can decrease the amount of out-of-school study undertaken, and can cause some students to see schoolwork as less important, Dr Holford says.

Students’ motivation for schoolwork can also be reduced due to general tiredness or shifting preferences towards the activities that their extra cash allows them to do.

The ISER research found that this occurs to a much greater extent among girls than boys. The only activity that boys’ employment appeared to “crowd out” was sporting participation.

The study also suggests that girls’ exam results may be adversely affected by part-time jobs because they are less likely to find employment in their local area and may therefore have to spend more time travelling to work.

Dr Holford analysed information gathered by Next Steps (previously known as the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England), which is following around 16,000 young adults who were aged 13 or 14 in 2004. Twenty-seven per cent of the Next Steps participants who were in full-time education at age 16 reported having a part-time job.

“Around a quarter of all 13- to 16-year-olds in England take some formal paid employment during school term time,” says Dr Holford. “This can be a good thing – they earn their own money and can pick up useful skills, which might help them find full-time work in the future. However, they may spend that hard-earned money on less than useful things, or fall in with a different group of people. We did find that schoolchildren who worked became more likely to drink alcohol regularly, smoke or consume cannabis.”

The issue is not whether students should have jobs at all, but rather one of the balance between employment and study, he concludes.

Read the full paper

Youth employment and academic performance: production functions and policy effects by Angus Holford, published in ISER Working Paper Series 2015-06-27 Mar 2015.

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