Marvin Olasky: The value of work


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, August 27th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. In affluent cultures, the value and dignity of work can sometimes can get lost on young people. WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky has been thinking about this.

MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: I made many mistakes as a father as our four sons were growing up, but my wife and I did one thing well: We taught them that it’s important to work. If one of them broke a brother’s toy, they had to work in some way to raise money to replace it. One way for a 4-year-old was to open envelopes that had come in the day’s mail, at one cent apiece. 

Later, if they wanted to drive a car around, they had to work to pay for their driver’s insurance. Supermarket cashier, fast food server, it didn’t matter: They learned to show up on time and persevere. They worked during the summers. In their 20s all became gainfully employed at full-time jobs.

One hundred years ago many children worked too long, with sweatshops sometimes overshadowing schools. Now, we’ve gone to the other extreme: Some high school students never do any work during the school year or even the summer. They fear flipping hamburgers during a summer will hurt grades and be less impressive to college admission officers than trips abroad. 

For a long time, though, research has shown the long-term usefulness of moderate employment during high school. One study examined earnings six to nine years after high school. High school seniors who had worked were earning 22 percent more than classmates who did not work. Working students had gained workplace skills and learned that perseverance pays off. 

Another study showed high school students working a few after-school or Saturday hours per week had better grades.

Work experience also gives millions of teens greater seriousness of purpose about schooling. If they’ve worked as cashiers and did not like it, they are less likely to enroll in popular university courses about human sexuality or the history of rock ‘n’ roll. 

They want to be trained for good jobs.

When college students lack work experience and also do not pay part of their room and board costs, they are more likely to flit from class to class. Sometimes they can get good grades by parroting fashionable ideas. Work as a supermarket cashier, on the other hand, requires adherence to a functional standard—“how many rings per minute do you average?”

Besides, work leaves less time for mischief and mayhem. I’ve read there was less sexual immorality in the Confederate Army during the Civil War than among the northern forces—maybe because of different beliefs, but maybe because southern troops were more often on the march. Yankees in tents had camp-following prostitutes nearby.

It is often better for teens today to spend time on the march than in the tents. 

For WORLD Radio, this is Marvin Olasky. 


(Photo/Creative Commons)

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