Adolescents’ Perceptions of the Economy: Its Association with Academic Engagement and the Role of School-Based and Parental Relationships

Abstract

In the context of widespread media coverage of economic problems, un- and under-employment, and overwhelming student loan debt, youth are making sense of the prospects of getting a job and value of education. Further, they are assessing the implications of the job market in curtailing or enhancing their future success. School-based and familial relationships may support students in making sense of the job market. The current study focuses on how youth view the economy, its association with academic engagement, and how parental and school-based relationships shape views of the job market and their impact on academic engagement. With an ethnically diverse sample of high school students (N = 624; 54% female), perceptions of the job market were tested as mediators and moderators of the relations between school-based relationships and parenting on academic engagement. Using structural equation modeling, job market pessimism mediated the relation between school-based relationships and engagement. School-based relationships and parenting practices moderated the relation between job market pessimism and academic engagement. At high levels of parental and school support, interpreted as increased centrality and salience of academic success, there was a stronger negative association between job market pessimism and academic engagement. This set of findings indicates that high school students are thinking about the job market in ways that impact their engagement in school. These findings extend theories that have focused on the job market and the likelihood of dropping out of school or enrolling in post-secondary education. These findings are significant because just staying in school is not enough to succeed. With increased emphasis on college and career readiness, students are required to be more planful and purposeful during high school in order to succeed in the job market.

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Acknowledgements

This study is based on a researcher-practitioner partnership among Medford Public Schools (MPS), Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Boston College. The authors acknowledge those at MPS who have made this partnership possible: Superintendent Roy Belson, administrators and staff including Amelia Jensen, Tim Klein, Nicholas Tucci, Curtis Tuden, and Lisa Bowler, along with the teachers, families and students. In addition, we acknowledge the research assistants on the partnership team who make this work possible, especially Allison White, Jon Sepulveda, Pei Pei Liu, and Yuseph Mkangara. This investigation was supported in part by the Dean’s Venture Fund from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Boston College Collaborative Fellows Grant. The study presented in the manuscript was conducted in a manner that is consistent with the ethical standards of the American Psychological Association, the Society for Research on Child Development, and the Society for Research in Adolescence.

Authors’ Contributions

N.E.H. is the principal investigator of the research-practice partnership on which this study is based, conceived the scope of this study and its theoretical contributions. In addition, she led in the writing of the manuscript and directing the course of the analyses. B.L. is the co-principal investigator of the research-practice partnership and co-conceived the study and its direction. D.Y.B. performed the statistical analyses and participating in probing the results to test for alternative interpretations. M.P. participated in the design and coordination of the study and the collection and data and data management. W.P. participated in the design and coordination of the data collection and measurement. J.P. is a co-principal investigator of the research-practice partnership and participated in the conceptualization of the study and its application of its findings. M.S.R. participated in the conceptualization of the study. All authors have read and approved the final version of this article.

Data Sharing Agreement

The data sets generated and analyzed are not publically available. But, they are available from the corresponding author on a reasonable request. Requests for access will be review and evaluated in consultation with the school district and our research-practice partnership team.

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This study was approved by the IRB offices at both Harvard University and Boston College. We complied with ethical standards for receiving informed consent and assent from parents and youth.

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Hill, N.E., Liang, B., Bravo, D.Y. et al. Adolescents’ Perceptions of the Economy: Its Association with Academic Engagement and the Role of School-Based and Parental Relationships. J Youth Adolescence 47, 895–915 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-017-0802-5

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Keywords

  • Parenting
  • School belonging
  • Academic engagement
  • Economy
  • Adolescence