In addition to earning money, the benefits of work for teens include positive impacts on mental health, physical health, and relationships.

9 Benefits of Work for Teens and Young Adults

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Key Points

  • Research has shown that there are numerous benefits of work for teens and young adults across all areas of life, including finances, relationships, and physical and mental health.
  • Labor force participation rates show teens and young adults are working less than previous generations.
  • Encouraging teens and young adults to work can be a valuable way of helping them lead meaningful lives and become healthy, resilient adults.

As summer break approaches for many teens and young adults, most will be looking forward to leisurely activities like a trip to the beach, camping, or even summer camp. Kids at this developmental age indeed need relaxation and rejuvenation over summer breaks, but it is also a valuable opportunity to reap lifelong benefits.

Parents, guardians, or even mentors may want to encourage their teen to get a summer job—not just to earn a little spending money but because work has many other benefits to the health and resiliency of teens.

It’s true that the brains and bodies of kids need some time to relax and rejuvenate after a long school year—and taking a much-needed break in the summer months can be a good thing. There’s also a lot to be said for getting a summer job that teaches the value of work and offers benefits that reap dividends over the course of their lives.

Work is good for young people

Research shows that seasonal and part-time employment for teenagers and young adults has almost universally positive impacts. The truth is that holding down a summer job is something that previous generations commonly experienced—and enjoyed—but kids today have been comparatively shielded from working until much later in life.

In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the summer labor force participation rate for 16- to 24-year-olds in July 2023 was only 60.2%—slightly down from the previous year’s rate of 60.4%. By comparison, back in July 1989, the rate peaked at 77.5% before trending downward over the next 20-plus years to settle between 60.0% and 60.6% from 2012 to 2018. 

Since then, the rate dropped significantly to 57.3% in 2020 due to the economic dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, though it has since returned to pre-COVID levels at around 60%.

Contrasting by gender, the 2023 gap in summer labor force participation was the smallest on record—at only 0.4%—with only 60.4% of young men working compared to 60.0% for young women. Interestingly—and not surprisingly—the gender gap was its widest at 40.9 percentage points back nearly 75 years ago in July 1950. Also not surprising is that today most summer jobs for teens and young adults are in leisure and hospitality (25%), retail trade (18%), and education and health services (13%). 

Clearly, the current generation of teens and young adults is working less than their predecessors. But what’s the impact on their lives?

They not only miss out on the financial benefits of earning money, but also on learning “soft” skills and attitudes that will positively impact them for the rest of their lives, including time management, respect for supervisors, following instructions, being reliable, demonstrating an upbeat attitude, dressing appropriately, accepting constructive criticism, and even using work-appropriate language.

As teens and young adults take on fewer seasonal or part-time jobs, they miss out on the benefits of work.

In July 2023, the summer labor force participation rate for 16- to 24-year-olds was 60.2%. In July 1989, the rate peaked at 77.5%. The drop means more young people are missing out on the benefits of work.

As teens and young adults take on fewer seasonal or part-time jobs, they miss out on the benefits of work.

In July 2023, the summer labor force participation rate for 16- to 24-year-olds was 60.2%. In July 1989, the rate peaked at 77.5%. The drop means more young people are missing out on the benefits of work.

For young people, benefits of work span all areas of a healthy life

Beyond this, the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) team has thoroughly reviewed the literature and found that there are nine benefits for work that help teens and young men and women develop a strong work ethic that lays the foundation for success in every area of life: 

1. Personal finances: When we think of work, we immediately think of a paycheck. That’s the most obvious benefit. Work enables kids to buy both necessities and luxuries, to pay for education, even to start saving for retirement. Attaching to work early is also important for avoiding the trap of the social safety-net system that can unintentionally keep people mired in poverty.

2. Serving others: Earning money in a free market economy shows the ability to create value by serving others and learning self-reliance.

3. Economic impact: The more people work, the more the economy grows. This creates a more prosperous society and leaves those who work personally better off than those who don’t work. Those who don’t work deny society resources that could have made everyone better off—while simultaneously pulling resources away from other important societal needs.

4. Personal well-being: Work confers dignity and respect. It provides a sense of meaning and purpose in life. In contrast, those who don’t work are, overall, less happy and experience higher levels of personal and familial stress, sadness, despair, hopelessness, apathy, and depression.

5. Mental health: Those who work experience improved mental health outcomes and have higher self-esteem, fewer psychosomatic symptoms, less anxiety, and decreased suicide risk.

6. Alcohol and substance abuse: Those who work generally have reduced drug use and improved treatment outcomes. The impact of substance abuse appears to be greater on those who don’t work.

7. Physical health and lifespan: Those who don’t work generally have poorer physical health, including disrupted sleep patterns, higher risk for cardiovascular disease and respiratory infections, and shorter longevity.

8. Family relationships: Working has a particularly positive impact on males when it comes to family formation. Young men who work are much more likely to marry and have a family.

9. Crime: Working typically has a positive effect on teens and young adults by increasing future wages, building human capital, and reducing criminal behavior and recidivism—especially for economic crimes involving property damage, theft, and drugs. 

Taken together, the evidence is strong for teens and young adults to start working on a seasonal or part-time basis. Whether it’s learning to manage a summer job in between camps, family vacation, and other enrichment activities or working during the academic year after school or on the weekends, the benefits of employment go far beyond earning money. 

While it may be fashionable for parents to shelter their children from the working world as long as possible to allow them to enjoy a more carefree and leisurely adolescence, the data—and generational wisdom—show that we do kids more harm than good by unduly delaying their exposure to the workforce.

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