Steve DeLoach, Elon University economics professor, finds link between gas prices and student study time

By Kellye Coleman and Kirsten Bennett

Having a job while in high school means extra cash for going to the movies and filling up the gas tank, but is part-time work for high school students a negative thing? Steve DeLoach, professor of economics, examined this long-standing question along with Stephanie Franz ’11, recent Elon graduate, and Jen Platania, associate professor of economics.

As part of SURE, Elon’s summer undergraduate research experience, the group completed a paper titled, “Reconsidering the trade-off between work and study: evidence from the time use of high school students,” which DeLoach presented at the Eastern Economics Association’s annual meeting, a conference that gathers economists from across the world.

Using data in which students recorded the time they spent studying, the group found that having a part-time job negatively impacted student study habits, especially those who tend to spend little time studying. “The students it is likely to hurt most are probably not those with good study habits but those marginal students,” Deloach said.

According to DeLoach, this research is particularly important because high school students in the United States work far more than their European counterparts. “We’ve really fallen behind in math and science compared to the rest of the world, so that’s part of the question,” DeLoach said.

Remembering the impact of the 1979 spike in gas prices during his high school years, DeLoach was curious to see how fluctuating gas prices are currently impacting student part-time jobs. He wondered, “If gas prices really go up, does that make students want to work more, or is it just too expensive?”

Research showed that when gas prices increase, students work less, the result of two factors, DeLoach argues. The rise in gas prices “effectively reduces the earnings, since you have to pay for more in gas,” he said. Also, “a lot of places that teens work get hurt when gas prices rise, like restaurants,” with fewer families willing to spend extra cash on meals outside of the home. As a result, students spend more time on their academic work.

Broad economic conditions also appear to affect study time. According to the study’s results, when the unemployment rate rises, for example in a time of recession, students leaving part-time jobs do not begin using their time to study. In fact, they study less. “What they’re doing is just leisuring more,” DeLoach said. “It’s not obvious why that should be. You usually think about tradeoffs of time. If we do less work, we’ll do more studying. That’s not the case for unemployment.”

DeLoach, Franz and Platania have submitted the paper for publication, a process that, with revisions and resubmissions, could take up to three years.

Originally published on Elon’s E-Net, July 5, 2011


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