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February 25, 2010

"In School and Out of Trouble? The Minimum Dropout Age and Juvenile Crime"

The title of this post is the title of this empirical piece I noticed at SSRN that suggests keeping kids in school may be even more effective than sending them to prison in order to reduce juvenile crime.  Here is the abstract:

Does increasing the minimum dropout age reduce juvenile crime rates?  Despite popular accounts that link school attendance to keeping youth out of trouble, little systematic research has analyzed the contemporaneous relationship between schooling and juvenile crime.  This paper examines the connection between the minimum age at which youth can legally dropout of high school and juvenile arrest rates by exploiting state-level variation in the minimum dropout age.

Using county-level arrest data for the U.S. between 1980 and 2006, a difference-in-difference-in-difference empirical strategy compares the arrest behavior over time of various age groups within counties that differ by their state’s minimum dropout age.  The evidence suggests that minimum dropout age requirements have a significant and negative effect on property and violent crime arrest rates for youth aged 16 to 18 years-old, and these estimates are robust to a range of specification checks.  Furthermore, the results are consistent with an incapacitation effect; school attendance decreases the time available for criminal activity.  Not only do these findings provide support for the efficacy of programs intended to keep youth in school and out of delinquency, but this information is likely to be of value to policy-makers deciding on whether or not to increase their state’s minimum dropout age.

February 25, 2010 at 06:42 AM | Permalink


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Is this supposed to be anything but a "duh!" study? The more hours you can keep kids in school the fewer hours they have for getting in trouble. This is the same reason I oppose school policies that kick youths out of extracurricular activities for positive drug tests and the like. Those are the kids you most need to keep involved. Punish them by benching them for the next event or extra workouts or something, but whatever else you do keep them involved.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 25, 2010 10:16:17 AM

The impact of a change in mandatory attendance laws is far bigger than most people realize.

In Colorado, where a change was enacted in 2006, the result was a 5% increase in the number of 12th graders in school statewide, and much more in districts with high dropout rates. Denver saw a 23% increase in 12th graders, the first ring Denver suburb of Aurora saw a 23% increase in 12th graders, and another first ring Denver suburb in Adams County saw a 20% increase in 12th graders. Thus, the number of kids who have gone from being high school dropouts to high school students in metropolitan Denver increased by several thousand (in a metro areas with about 2.5 million people).

The effect is as rapid as that of most of the economic stimulus programs being proposed.

One could reasonably fear that getting kids who were going to drop out to stay in school against their will would simply shift delinquency from the streets to the school yard. But, interestingly, bringing these kids back into school did not increase disciplinary problems in the school, despite the fact that a history of disciplinary problems in school are a very strong predictor of whether or not a kid will drop out of school. Out of school suspensions in Denver's school district are actually down 44%.

Delinquency is being reduced overall, in and out of school, not just relocated. This isn't just "duh" stuff.

In addition to reducing juvenile crime (and with it juvenile justice system costs, lost economic opportunity of juvenile delinquent costs and and the costs that arise from the crimes themselves), getting thousands of kids off the street also opens up jobs for people who have the hardest time finding them. While unemployment rates for high school dropouts are very high, many high school dropouts do have day jobs that are opened up for other ill educated, unskilled people in the labor market when they stay in school. This indirectly reduces the likelihood that those people will commit crimes as well.

Unlike short term economic stimulus plans, the jobs that are opened up will stay opened up permanently.

And, a change in mandatory school attendance age is a bill that isn't hard to read. Typical, the legislation only has to change one number in a very small number of instances in a single statute. The administrative architecture of the compulory school attendance system, and the school funding formula changes to accomodate the greater school attendance in high schools, are already in place.

The empirical evidence is so compelling that it seems pretty clear every U.S. state that has a low mandatory school attendance age would greatly benefit from increasing it.

The fact that a solution is easy and obvious doesn't mean that it shouldn't be vigorously advocated. Urging legislators to swiftly make changes that have predictable, empirically proven results is an exceedingly worthwhile endeavor.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Feb 25, 2010 3:46:17 PM

Do I misunderstand? Massive government programs for dropouts make work will be repaid with a lower crime rate? These delinquent youths in the massive government total waste of time babysitting service called high school will also vacate jobs for older unskilled workers. Is that correct? Are these older workers unionized by any chance?

How about this instead. Make the age of majority 14. Then end mandatory education at that age. Then make any violent criminal subject to 123D, starting the count at age 14. This is the natural, biological landmark for adulthood. This was the historic landmark of adulthood for the past 10,000 years of human civilization. Lots happens at 14 to validate adulthood. Nothing happens at 18, 21, or 26. How about mandatory school until age 41? Wouldn't that keep people in school until their tendency toward criminality markedly abated?

I have another suggestion. You that murderer who got the SC to knock down the death penalty for people with IQ's below 70? He ran a drug business from age 9. What were the justices doing at that age? He lured a rival and killed him. Could the justices do that? The reason he scored below 70 is that school raises performance on the IQ test. But he hung out so much with lawyers that his IQ is now above 70, and he is death penalty qualified. He discovered one of the most powerful boosts to intelligence in history, hanging out with lawyers.

All dropouts and retarded criminals should be assigned to attend all day at a lawyer office and to converse with the dumbass.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 25, 2010 9:18:54 PM

"even more effective"?? since when is sending kids to prison an effective societal strategy? it may be a necessary evil, but it is a symbol of failure and a societal disaster when a kid is allowed to get to the point where the best we can do for him/us is lock him up for everyone's protection. the vast majority of kids in this situation are there because adults and the community have failed them time and time again from infancy on.

Keeping kids in school seems like a good idea, as are other public and private reforms that help give kids adequate nutrition, shelter, education, mentoring, love, and opportunities. But you get my dander up when you use the phrase "even more effective", as if prison is some kind of good second alternative.

Posted by: Father | Mar 2, 2010 11:18:47 AM

The quality of the responses in this blog are outstanding- well researched and equally well written. There is not much I can add that will top them. I started my blog on a similar topic, but with a more "spare the rod" attitude and after reading your I have a more balanced perspective and I thank you for that and will follow you with great interest.
BTW I found your blog by googling "keep kids out of trouble" which is the title of my blog.

Posted by: concerned parent | Sep 20, 2010 11:57:28 PM

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