The Changing Benefits of Early Work Experience

We examine whether the benefits of high school work experience have changed over the last 20 years by comparing effects for the 1979 and 1997 cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Our main specifications suggest that the future annual earnings benefits of working 20 h per week in the senior year of high school have fallen from 17.4% for the earlier cohort, measured in 1987–1989, to 12.1% for the later cohort, in 2008–2010. The gains have diminished by similar amounts for men and women but much more substantially for those who do not later attend college than for those who do. We further show that most of the differential between cohorts can be attributed to the way that high school employment is related to subsequent adult work experience and occupational attainment.