11 August 1999

Working Can Make You Stupid (if you’re a kid that is)

by Kate Melville

Jobs that kids have like lawn mowing, paper rounds and baby sitting may lower their school test results according to Dr. David Post, from Penn State University. "Boys, and to a lessor extent girls, show substantial negative effects on math and science achievement associated with after-school employment, even after controlling for family background effects," (this apparently affects not only U.S. children, but children worldwide).

Dr. Post and Dr. Suet-ling Pong, looked at the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS), a 1988 random sample of eighth graders across the U.S. that followed students through high school. "The nature of NELS is such that we could distinguish between light work, such as baby sitting and delivering newspapers and heavy work, such as farm work or construction….For boys, clear evidence exists that working during eighth grade has detrimental effects on achievement and on learning math and science in the tenth grade. The evidence for girls is less dramatic, but still significant."

Previous studies, which looked only at grades, indicated that working had no effect, but the Penn State researchers looked at math and science achievement, not grades, and found a negative effect

This report attacks the widely held belief that part-time work increases students' sense of responsibility, interpersonal relationships and self image and allowed them to interact and learn from their elders. The report argues traditional workplaces there was a higher level of interaction between students and adults

To compare their findings with students internationally the research team looked at the U.S. eighth grade data in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) to see if the TIMSS data showed the same negative effect. TIMSS looks at achievement in math and science for fourth, eighth and twelfth graders in countries around the world. It does not compile information about the student's families, but it does ask whether the students worked outside school for pay.

"Those countries where students more often worked for pay had lower overall scores than those where eighth grade students do not work outside school," says Post. "This was even significant for girls in those countries where girls work outside the house."

Educators around the world need to be aware of the detrimental impact of working after school on math and science achievement. However this presents particular problems for developing economies according to Dr. Post, "Child welfare advocates in many countries spend enormous energy just trying to get kids into school and to pass compulsory laws requiring universal education. However, requiring children to attend school does not decrease the need for these children to work."