Precarious employment, or “employment that is uncertain, unpredictable, and risky from the point of view of the worker” (Kalleberg, 2009, p. 2), is on the rise both in the United States, and around the world. Studies suggest that young workers are more likely than workers from other age groups to be in precarious work-- yet little is known about young people’s experiences in precarious employment.
In addition, there is a current gap in knowledge regarding the relationship between employment experiences and health during the transition to adulthood. A growing body of literature has highlighted the relationship between precarious employment and short- and long-term health outcomes for adults (i.e., Benach et al., 2016; Muntaner et al., 2010). For example, previous studies have found that workers who perceive their jobs to be insecure are more likely to have poor physical and mental health outcomes, compared with workers who do not perceive their jobs to be insecure, even after adjusting for actual job losses or unemployment (Burgard, Brand, & House, 2009; Sverke, Hellgren, & Näswall, 2002). Scholars have called for more research that focuses on young adults, in particular.
This study aimed to address the current gap in knowledge by examining the relationships between changes in employment quality over the course of young adulthood and a range of health-related outcomes, including general health, mental health, and behavioral health outcomes. The data for the study were from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), a nationally-representative, longitudinal study of young people in the United States. It utilized a complex measure of precarious employment, created by identifying underlying groups of job characteristics using latent class analysis. These groups were then linked across time periods, to create precarious employment trajectories. From there, multinomial logistic regression was used to examine the associations between precarious employment trajectories and four health measures of interest: self-rated general health, depression, smoking, and heavy episodic drinking.
Preliminary findings suggest that improvements in job quality over time were significantly and positively associated with improvements in behavioral health (smoking and heavy episodic drinking). In contrast, there was no significant relationship between job quality and self-rated general health or depression. Taken together, these results suggest that employment quality during the transition to adulthood matters, and should be considered by policymakers, practitioners, and researchers interested in employment-based policies and programs.
Conclusions and Implications:
This study represents an important step toward understanding the causes and consequences of inequality in access to decent work for young adults. Findings are expected to have implications for the development of effective social programs and policies to prepare young adults to successfully enter and maintain employment within the current context of the U.S. labor market.