Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Human Ecology

First Advisor

Mary Elizabeth Garrison


Employment of high school students has been growing steadily since the mid-1960s (Cole, 1991). Today, more than 40% of all high school students who work are employed at least part-time (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1995). Working adolescents may view their earnings as a sudden windfall of income to be used as discretionary income. This "premature affluence" may reinforce inappropriate consumer behaviors such as spending beyond means which may become established habits into their adult lives (Bachman, 1983). The cognitive development of these adolescents may be at the concrete operational thinking stage which inhibits them from handling adult behaviors in an appropriate manner such as planning or saving for the future (Piaget 1972, 1976). The purpose of this exploratory study was to investigate the consumer behavior of working adolescents. Based on cognitive development and consumer behavior theories, the study was designed to (a) examine the spending and saving patterns of working adolescent in Louisiana; (b) examine sources and amounts of income received by adolescents in the work force; and (c) identify the cognitive processes used by working adolescents to decide their consumer behavior. Focus group interviews were employed as the data collection technique (Krueger, 1994). Following pilot testing, an a priori list of cognitive development behaviors predicted for adolescents was established. This list was used to identify adolescents behaviors by cognitive development stage. The 12 group of interviewees were comprised of 16 and 17 year old adolescent female high school students employed part-time in the workforce. The research participants, a total of 40, were from low and middle socioeconomic status families. According to Piaget's (1972, 1976) definition of cognitive development, none of the adolescents had fully developed formal operational thinking. This finding indicates that adolescents are not prepared to enter the adult world of work, nor are they prepared to make mature decisions regarding the use of their income. This finding was also corroborated by an examination of the academic achievement of the majority of the adolescents who only maintained a C average although they were enrolled in college preparatory tracks. Implications for educators are developed in the study.