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Being a teenager has always been tough, but according to a recent study on teen employment, a rough economy makes finding work more trying than ever for them.  The employment rate for teens ages 16-19 has fallen from 45% in 2000 to 26% in 2011 - the lowest employment rate for teens since World War II. 

While numerous studies suggest that teens are increasingly choosing to focus on school and forgo working, this study accounts for "underutilized" labor—teens that have part-time jobs, but want to work full-time and teens that aren't looking for work, but also want to be working full-time.  In other words, for teens who do want to work, the jobs just aren’t there. 

If you’re interested in gaining a clear picture of the lives of teens today, these findings contribute a crucial piece to the puzzle. But beyond simply describing the current state of affairs, we think this study should inspire some sound insights about the future of the youth market.  Of course, fewer teens working might mean less disposable income for this cohort, but it also means that how teens spend (and think about spending) will change.

So, what might the current economic crisis mean for the future of teen spending?

They will make education (even more of) a priority.  Staying in school has become increasingly important to teens and all Americans, but we predict that more teens will deliberately forgo working to continue with or focus on their education. These teens will seek out supplies to make their school years more productive. In other words, for marketers, think school is cool.

They will prioritize products with longevity.  Even though teens are looking for deals, they also want to get their money’s worth.  Products that last longer are increasingly more appealing to this economically challenged cohort.  Even the "coolest" product can get a bad reputation if it's known to have a short shelf life.  Don't be afraid to emphasize your product’s long-term potential.   

They will make shopping about more than just spending.  With less money to spend, teens might be avoiding retail stores more than their cohorts from previous generations.  And when they do browse, teens feel less obligated to spend on the spot than in the past. This might seem like bad news for marketers, but instead, we think this signals some unexpected opportunities. Acknowledge that the shopping experience is increasingly social – both in-store and online. Don’t despair if they’re window-shopping – getting in their consideration set should be considered the first and critical win with these savvy, strategic shoppers.

They will ponder their purchases more than ever before. Forget your image of the impulsive teen buyer. Teens have become more thorough and more thoughtful in their purchases. This is why it’s vital to facilitate the evaluation process through reviews, demos, etc. Encouraging teens to think about their purchases will show them that you value their time and respect their wallets.