Breakdown of the work ethic?
: an analysis of labour force attachment in a marginalised community

  • Ruth Patricia Jones

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This research proposed to scrutinise and test the 'underclass' theory by examining a prime indicator of underclass' membership - youth unemployment, in specific relation to a possible breakdown in the work ethic of socially excluded young people. Research examined the concept of a 'weak labour force attachment' (Wilson 1990) which suggests that in localities characterised by key features of social exclusion, exhibiting structural poverty, chronic joblessness and benefit dependency, residents will be exposed to an environment that 'reinforces' the unemployed condition, primarily through a weakening of the attachment to work for its residents. This phenomena is seen as transmittable through the socialisation process, shaping the work aspirations of future generations.

    Such localities are often conceptualised by popularised ideology as being socially, economically and morally in decline, typified in terms of the run down council estate, and closely associated with the concept of an 'emerging underclass'. Research focussed on a sample of 'unemployed' 16-18 age group from a south Wales valley region. Comparisons were made between young people residing in localities designated as 'marginalised' - defined in terms of declining local authority housing estates, with those young people residing in geographically neighbouring localities, which exhibited similarities in socio-economic profile.

    The gendered distribution of the sample cohort supported current labour market trends that youth unemployment is disproportionately affecting young males. Analysis of research data strongly challenges the 'underclass' thesis on the grounds that 'marginalised' youths are exhibiting dysfunctional work attitudes. No comparative evidence was found in relation to a weakening of the work ethic of young people residing in 'marginalised' communities, with their contemporaries residing in the main valley region. However, key research findings
    indicated that 'marginalised' youth face accumulative, and additional difficulties when entering the youth labour market which are distinctive from their peers who live in the mainstream valley region.

    The 'marginalised' sample was disproportionately represented in the 'long term unemployed' (unemployed accumulatively for 5 months) and the 'disaffected in school' cohorts (characterized by high levels of truancy, early leaving, suspension and educational underachievement). 'Disaffection' in school manifested itself in terms of motivational and behavioural dysfunction but these features could not be generalized to the world of work and were not indicative of an erosion of work aspirations of socially excluded youth. However, a tangible relationship was found between those young people detached from spheres of education, with labour market exclusion.
    Date of AwardNov 1999
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDavid Adamson (Supervisor)

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