Exploitation or fun? The lived experience of teenage employment in Suburban America

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Objectivist scholars characterize typical teenage jobs as "exploitive": highly routinized service sector jobs with low pay, no benefits, minimum skill requirements, and little time off. This view assumes exploitive characteristics are inherent in the jobs, ignoring the lived experience of the teenage workers. This article focuses on the lived work experience of particularly affluent, suburban teenagers who work in these jobs and explores the meaning they create during their everyday work experience. Based on a large ethnographic study conducted with the teenage workers at a national coffee franchise, this article unravels the ways in which objectivist views of these "bad jobs" differ from the everyday experience of the actors. The findings show that from the perspective of the teenagers, these "exploitive jobs" are often seen as fun, social, and empowering and are free spaces where they can express their creativity and individuality. These findings demonstrate the importance of employing a constructionist view in understanding teenage employment and inequality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-340
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Contemporary Ethnography
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2006


  • Inequality
  • Labor
  • Suburbs
  • Work
  • Youth


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