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What Explains Trends in Labor Supply Among U.S. Undergraduates?

Scott-Clayton, Judith


Recent cohorts of college enrollees are more likely to work, and work substantially more, than those in the past. October Current Population Survey data reveal that average labor supply among 18- to 22-year-old, full-time undergraduates nearly doubled between 1970 and 2000, rising from six hours to 11 hours per week. In 2000 over half of these "traditional" college students were working for pay in the reference week, and those who worked at all worked an average of 22 hours per week. After 2000, labor supply leveled off and then fell abruptly in the wake of the Great Recession to an average of eight hours per week in 2009. This paper considers several explanations for the long-term trend of rising employment — including changes in demographic composition and rising tuition costs — and considers whether the upward trend is likely to resume when economic conditions improve.


Scott-Clayton, Judith (2012), What Explains Trends in Labor Supply Among U.S. Undergraduates?, National Tax Journal, 65:1, pp. 181-210

DOI: dx.doi.org/10.17310/ntj.2012.1.07