The elimination of child labor was essential at the beginning stage of the industrial revolution. There are many situations in which the exclusion of adolescents and youth also from the work world is desirable. On the other hand, it would seem that there are many points at which urban-industrial society has gone to an extreme in this direction.
Work has many values aside from the purely economic. It is important that young people be introduced gradually into the work responsibilities and attitudes of adulthood. With work and a separate income also comes a growing sense of independence. Without earning power there can be little independence from the family. The saying, "He who pays the piper calls the tune," is as true in the average family as elsewhere. As long as the parent pays the bills, his authority is likely to overshadow the activities of his child. With economic self-sufficiency, the child begins to evade parental authority and to make independent decisions. Adulthood in the community is measured by the ability to make one's living. Handicaps in the way of adolescents and youth earning part of their way and learning to handle money and make decisions involving the spending of it are crippling factors in their development.
In WPA days of the thirties many youth could not take a job without seeing the parent dropped from his job, and thus were denied the opportunity to move out from under parental authority and achieve economic maturity. In contrast was the experience of other youth who succeeded in finding nonrelief jobs but whose parents were unemployed. On them was thrown the economic responsibility of the family so that they were forced to shoulder the full burdens of economic adulthood without being able to marry and establish independent families of their own. Both of these situations create difficulties for youth.
The Maryland youth study of the middle thirties showed that about one in five youths, sixteen to twenty-four years of age, was helping support or completely supporting his parents. In only about a third of these cases was the help considered necessary. Boys were more often helping to support their parents than girls. Twenty-five per cent of the boys, as compared with 13 per cent of girls, were contributing to parents' support.
The extent to which the group sixteen to twenty-four years of age assumed financial responsibility depended a great deal on the occupation of the family. Only 9.3 per cent of those in professional and technical families were contributing to them. At the other extreme, a third of the children in farm-labor households made financial contributions to the families.
In the modern urban environment the need of the young adolescent for money in connection with school, recreation, transportation, etc., is a constant drain on the family budget, even in middle-class families, to say nothing of families in the low-income classes. The Lynds point out that in Middletown children in all occupational classes carry money earlier and carry more of it than their parents did when they were young. Middletown high-school boys and girls indicated that spending money was a source of disagreement between them and their parents. Thirty-seven per cent of 348 high-school boys indicated this was a point of friction and 29 per cent of 382 girls.
In the urban young person's quest for status in the peer group and for recognition by and association with the opposite sex, pecuniary values are likely to rate very highly. The ability to own an automobile or to drive their parents' car, to have money for the show and soda fountain, for the dance, plays, athletic games, and other recreational activities, most of which are now commercialized, makes money important to school youths long before they are able to earn it for themselves. In a peer group the boy's rating among the girls is determined in part by the amount of money he is able to spend, and the favors of a girl's association are likely to be most accessible, other things being equal, to the young man whose parents are able or willing to provide a liberal cash allowance.
In all these situations one must take into account, then, that spending money is an important status-gaining device.
It is true that money as a status-gaining device does not always accomplish the end desired. This is especially true when the youth tries to use it as a means of compensating for feelings of inferiority in other lines and goes to a snobbish extreme that fails to bring him the favorable attention he seeks. A college youth, analyzing his experience in using money as a device for compensating for his lack of ability in sports and group play, used money in an attempt to gain status but, failing, was driven to seek introverted satisfactions.
Because I was the only child and my dad was making a fairly good living, I was able to afford a better bicycle and spend a little more money on candy and such things than my playmates. This separated me from them all the more, and being in a small community I could not change my play group. Thus I developed several defense mechanisms against what I thought was a hostile attitude. I became independent and kept to myself, read books for recreation, and attempted to make playmates jealous by a new bicycle, clothes, and extra money. That this was wrong and did not work can easily be seen.