Using State Child Labor Laws to Identify the Causal Effect of Youth Employment on Deviant Behavior and Academic Achievement

J Quant Criminol. 2008 Dec;24(4):337-362. doi: 10.1007/s10940-008-9055-5.


On the basis of prior research findings that employed youth, and especially intensively employed youth, have higher rates of delinquent behavior and lower academic achievement, scholars have called for limits on the maximum number of hours per week that teenagers are allowed to work. We use the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 to assess the claim that employment and work hours are causally related to adolescent problem behavior. We utilize a change model with age-graded child labor laws governing the number of hours per week allowed during the school year as instrumental variables. We find that these work laws lead to additional number of hours worked by youth, which then lead to increased high school dropout but decreased delinquency. Although counterintuitive, this result is consistent with existing evidence about the effect of employment on crime for adults and the impact of dropout on youth crime.

Keywords: Crime and deviance; Instrumental variables; Longitudinal data; School performance; Youth employment.