Working Long Hours May Hurt High School Students

Study: High School Students Working More Than 20 Hours a Week May See Decline in Behavior, Academic Expectations

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on February 03, 2011

Feb. 4, 2011 -- Working long hours while in high school may have a negative effect on students’ performance as well as behavior, according to a new study.

Researchers say the results contradict several recent studies that suggested no negative effects of working more than 20 hours a week on high school students’ performance or behavior.

Instead, the study shows students who work long hours during high school were more likely to engage in substance abuse and have lowered academic expectations and performance than students who work more moderate hours or don’t work.

“An important message for parents and practitioners is that while working more than 20 hours per week during the school year is probably not advisable, working less than this does not seem to affect an adolescent’s academic, behavioral, or psychosocial well-being,” researcher Kathryn C. Monahan, a postdoctoral research scientist at the University of Washington, and colleagues write in Child Development.

“Although working during high school is unlikely to turn law-abiding teenagers into felons or cause students to flunk out of school, the magnitude of the adverse effects reported here is not trivial, and even a small decline in school engagement or increase in problem behavior may be of concern to parents who worry about their children’s admission to highly selective postsecondary institutions or experimentation with deviant activity,” write the researchers.

Another Look at the Effects of Working in High School

In the study, researchers reanalyzed information collected during a study conducted in 1987-1989 involving 1,792 10th and 11th grade students in Wisconsin and California.

The first analysis of this data, published in 1993, suggested that working long hours during high school was linked to various negative effects, but leaving the work force led to improvements in students’ academic performance.

In their reanalysis, researchers got a clearer picture of the effects of work and work hours on adolescent behavior and academic performance.

The results showed that compared to high school students who did not work, students who started working at a moderate level (less than 20 hours per week) fared no differently in terms of academic performance or problem behavior.

But students who worked more than 20 hours a week had lower expectations for academic attainment and were less engaged at school. They also had higher levels of substance abuse and deviant behavior.

Surprisingly, researchers say students who continued working long hours reported an increase in their GPA compared to students who quit working long hours during the study period. But researchers theorize this may be due to a tendency of working students to select easier classes.

Finally, researchers looked at the effects of cutting back or increasing work hours on high school students. They found that students who increased their weekly hours to more than 20 hours per week reported a decrease in time spent on homework and an increase in mind wandering in class.

But in contrast with previous results, this study showed that students who cut back from working long hours to working less than 20 hours per week fared no differently in terms of performance or behavior than students who continued working more than 20 hours per week.

Researchers say the results suggest that parents, educators, and policymakers should monitor and constrain the number of hours high school students work during the school year.

Show Sources


Monahan, K. Child Development, January/February 2011; vol 81.

News release, Society for Research in Child Development.

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