Saturday’s Kids: The decline of Schoolkids with jobs, and the increase in Exam Results.

Welcome to my first blog of 2018. 

I plan to write one blog a month, but look at each issue in a bit more depth.  Over the last year I found that I wanted to go into some subjects in more detail than a fortnightly blog allowed.


I had started writing a blog for January about the UK Labour market part when a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook about the increased numbers of University students graduating with a First.  This feeds into a narrative about the younger millennial generation, a rather unflattering narrative.   Given that my own daughter is going through the University applications process 30 years after I did I thought it would be good to bring forward something that I had planned for February.

For a long time I have been wondering about the sharp decline in the number of children with Saturday jobs.   When I say Saturday jobs I mean any kind of employment while studying including paper rounds, shop work, bar work, etc..   I started working when I was 13 or 14 asa pot collector at Ramside Hall, working my way up to waiter and then barman, running the bar for weddings at the Pemberton suite.    My guess would be that more than half of my year at Belmont had regular or irregular paid work.   

My money went into building a large collection of LPs and singles, buying mod clothes, and running a Vespa scooter.  Even by the 1990s 40% of school children were “earning while learning”. 


Today only 18% of children have Saturday jobs.   Looked at from the employers perspective the decline is even more dramatic.   Employers who want to hire people who are still in education need to register with the Local Authority.   In 2011 Middlesbrough Council issued 101 permits for children aged 13-15 to work – by 2015 this had fallen to 7.  

As a small business this shift is very notable.   The younger the employee the less likely they have been exposed to the world of work, and the more they have to be shown how to behave in the workplace.  The basics of how business works, how to deal with customers, how to solve problems when the boss isn’t around, how to fill the time in on a boring shift are alien experiences for lots of young people.

Some of these changes are due to a fall in demand.  The most popular Saturday job in my era was delivering newspapers.   The reduction in the number of people getting papers delivered everyday was the main reason for the fall in employment permits in Middlesbrough.

The changes in the UK high street have also impacted.  The companies who offered the most opportunities for Saturday jobs were people like Woolworths and BHS, companies who just don’t exist anymore.  Where companies are still trading they are automating jobs like check out assistants reducing opportunities further.   

There has been an attitude shift towards suitable employment for young people.  A friend of mine had a Saturday job at Cheveley Park shops where their main task was selling cigarettes. People don’t buy as many fags as they used to, and allowing children to sell fags and booze is no longer acceptable.

As well as the demand side change there has been a supply side change among young people – the pressure to do well at school is much greater, and there is a lot of anxiety that time spent working and earning should be spent studying.  The pressure to get good grades and succeed at school is radically different to my era, where slacking was pretty commonplace.

As an employer however there is another rather obvious reason not to hire school kids to work on a Saturday.  Under the Modern Apprentice scheme we could hire a school leaver full time on £3.50 per hour. We would even get a grant from the Council in case that pay rate was too much of a burden for us.   It is hard to see why I would hire a nice middle class kid one day a week for £5 per hour, when I can have a permanent employee for less.   Wage rates for under 21s have been deliberately driven down by the Government to such an extent that it is not attractive for kids to take Saturday jobs. 

If this sounds a lot like a 1980s YTS scheme it is because it is a lot like a 1980s YTS scheme.  The terrible pay rates for under 21 Apprentices aren’t particularly well known, and would be a shock to lots of people.

A while ago I wore about trends in drug use.  Not only are young people working less they are doing drugs less too.

In the mid-90s 30% of 16-25 year olds had taken illegal drugs in the last year.  This has fallen to 18%.  We need to be a bit careful because the definition of young people in the drugs survey is different to the definition of young people in the labour market, but there is enough of an overlap to make a comparison. 

The fall in the quantity of drugs is mirrored in the decline in alcohol consumption.  The total number of units of alcohol consumed in the UK has fallen in most years since 2000.  This will come as a surprise to people given the number of headlines about the impact of alcohol on A&E attendances, but we are all drinking less.   Under age drinking has fallen hugely.   Back in the 80s, 62% of children aged 11-15 had drunk alcohol.  Today that has fallen to 38%.    The same is true when we compare the youngest category of drinkers (16-24 year olds) to my generation; Less than half (48%) of those aged 16 to 24 reported drinking alcohol in the previous week, compared with 66% of those aged 45 to 64.   The number of young people who are teetotal is much higher than my generation, increasing the rate of non-drinkers in the UK to roughly 20% of the adult population. 

There is evidence that young people are having their first sexual experiences at an older age however I am reluctant to research this due to the rather obvious problems of using the internet to look for information about young people and sex.   An easier area of statistics to look at is the teenage pregnancy rate, which has fallen from 55 per 1000 population in the early 70s to 23 today.  They have fewer fillings and better teeth too.

As a final statistic about how sensible young people are DVLA records show a decline in the number of young people with driving licenses.  In 1995/97, 43% of those aged 17-20 held a full licence, compared with a low of 27% in 2004 and 35% in 2010.   

Whether these numbers confirm or confound your view of young people depends on what your preconceptions are.   There is however another popular media stereotype about young people that I thought would be worth testing.  In this year’s General Election a large number of young people registered to vote and voted for the first time, boosting support for the Labour Party.  A tiresome number of press articles have been written about the popularity of “oooh Jeremy Corbyn” among young people.   

These stories are rather at odds with most of the research on the subject.  Young people have much harsher attitudes towards welfare, crime and income redistribution than my generation, who have much more typical left wing attitudes. In particular their views towards “benefit scroungers” are very much harsher.  In fact the Labour Party’s shift to the left has coincided with an influx of older members, not younger.  Typical old Labour policies like re-nationalisation of utilities are less popular with my daughters generation than mine.   While partisan pro-Corby websites claim that the average Tory is in their 70s and the average Labour members decades younger the reality is that there is only 4 years between the average age of a Conservative party member and their Labour equivalent (53 to 57).   The rise of Corbyn has made the Labour Party membership older, richer and whiter.

There are 2 key areas where younger voters are different to the older generations; they are much more socially liberal and far more pro-European. 

While all of these generational changes have been going on educational attainment has been increasing markedly, which has caused a huge amount of debate about the dumbing down of British education particularly in newspapers like the Times and the Telegraph.  Every increase in GCSE or A Level results has been greeted by wild claims of dumbing down.

I am instinctively sceptical about these claims.   All of my experience as a student and then a Dad leads me to believe that young people spend more time studying, are more sensible, drink less, and do fewer drugs, and that this is likely to be a very significant factor in improving grades.  

Bloody millenials eh?  Walking round like they rent the place.

There may be a special case around University degree classifications as we went to University at a time when a large number of former Polytechnics and Technical Colleges were gaining degree awarding status or converting to become Universities.   Liverpool now has 4 universities, Liverpool, John Moores and Edge Hill and Hope.   It looks to me the increase in the percentage of students getting a first coincides with the expansion of the number of organisations awarding degrees.

For those who disbelieve me, and who think that education has been dumbed down here are a selection of O Level and GCSE History papers.  Assessing which paper is easier is always a bit subjective, but I found the 1980s paper the hardest, then the GCSE papers, and the older papers by far the easiest. 

If you don’t believe me try them for yourself….

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