Constrained choices: Contingent work among youth and young adults during the 1980s and early 1990s

Date of Completion

January 1997


Economics, Labor|Sociology, Industrial and Labor Relations




This dissertation investigates the contingent work arrangements of youths and young adults during the 1980s and early 1990s. The research question is why young people held contingent work positions during this time period. The two competing explanations addressed in this dissertation for why people worked in contingent positions are the supply-side theory and the demand-side theory. The supply-side theory posits that workers hold contingent positions because these jobs offer preferred work conditions, while the demand-side theory contends that employers use contingent work positions for the flexibility these jobs offer in terms of reduced labor costs and obligations. The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a nationally representative sample of 12,686 females and males, is utilized to test these explanations. Event history procedures are used.^ Both the supply- and demand-side theories were useful in explaining why young people during the 1980s and early 1990s worked in contingent positions. Women were more likely to work in contingent employment and being married and having children increased the likelihood. Black women were surprisingly more likely than non-Hispanic women to hold contingent jobs, but this was at least partly explained by interactions of family income levels with marital status and having young children. The effect of marital status on the odds that men worked in contingent positions varied with age, and the effect of school enrollment varied by age for the full sample. These age interactions revealed that the direction of the marital status effect among men and enrollment status effect for the sample changed direction, contrary to hypotheses.^ There was also some support for the demand-side explanation for contingent work. Support for the dual labor market demand-side theory was that black males and females were more likely than non-Hispanic whites to make transitions from contingent jobs to unemployment, blacks and females had lower pay in contingent and non-contingent positions, and that all females, regardless of marital status, were more likely to hold contingent employment relative to men. The insignificance of the Hispanic coefficient in most of the analyses and the occasional insignificance of education level in predicting contingent work suggested that non-contingent positions were not necessarily reserved for non-Hispanic whites with higher education levels, providing possible support for the flexibility demand-side theory. ^