Do declines in school dropout rates affect crime?

Crime in America

The data presented below is from “Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972–2008” from the US Department of Education.

The data provides different findings for different groups but in essence, dropout rates “…trended downward…from 1995 through 2008.” As for income, “In the last 13 years (1995–2008), the rates for low-income and middle-income families trended downward.”

It’s the data from 1995 to 2008 that intrigues us.  In another section of the report, it states that there are considerable and positive differences in income for those who graduate from high school. Most criminologists would agree that school failure and low income correlates with crime.

We have said throughout this site that “The bottom line…is that violent and property crime are at record lows for the country and, generally speaking, have been decreasing for the last two decades. See

We do not know with precision the reasons why crime rates have been decreasing for the last 20 years. But people in the 15-25 age group (those most prone to criminal activity) who graduate from high school and earn more money will be less likely to enter the criminal justice system.

We believe that most criminologists (and most people) will agree; success in school has an impact on crime.

The report: Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972–2008

(Note-presentation amended by us to make the data more readable)

National Dropout Rates: The national event dropout rate is based on an estimate of the percentage of both private and public high school students who left high school between the beginning of one school year and the beginning of the next without earning a high school diploma or an alternative credential (e.g., a GED).

Specifically, the rate describes the percentage of youth ages 15 through 24 in the United States who dropped out of grades 10–12 from either public or private schools.

Dropout rates: On average, 3.5 percent of students who were enrolled in public or private high schools in October 2007 left school before October 2008 without completing a high school program.

No measurable change was detected in the event dropout rate between 2007 and 2008 (3.5 percent in both years); however, since 1972, event dropout rates have trended downward, from 6.1 percent in 1972 to 3.5 percent in 2008.

Declines occurred primarily from 1972 through 1990, when the rate reached 4.0 percent. From 1990 through 1995, event rates increased, but then trended downward again from 1995 through 2008.

These fluctuations during the 1990s and early to mid-2000s resulted in no measurable difference between the 1990 and 2008 dropout rates.

Dropout rates by sex: There was no measurable difference in the 2008 event dropout rates for males and females, a pattern generally found since 1972.

Exceptions to this pattern occurred in 4 years—1974, 1976, 1978, and 2000—when males had measurably higher event dropout rates than females.

Dropout rates by race/ethnicity: Between October 2007 and October 2008, Black and Hispanic students in public and private high schools had higher event dropout rates than White students.

The event dropout rate was 6.4 percent for Blacks and 5.3 percent for Hispanics, compared with 2.3 percent for Whites.

The general downward trend in event dropout rates over the three and a half decade period from 1972 through 2008 observed in the overall population was also found among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics.

However, the decreases happened at different times over this 36-year period for these racial/ethnic groups. The pattern found among Whites mirrored the overall population: a decrease in event rates from 1972 through 1990, an increase from 1990 through 1995, and another decrease from 1995 through 2008.

Blacks also experienced a decline from 1972 through 1990, and an increase from 1990 through 1995, but their event dropout rates fluctuated and no measurable trend was found between 1995 and 2008.

Hispanics, on the other hand, experienced no measurable change in their event dropout rates from 1972 through 1990, and no measurable change from 1990 through 1995, but did experience a decline from 1995 through 2008.

Dropout rates by family income: In 2008, the dropout rate of students living in low-income families was about four and one-half times greater than the rate of their peers from high-income families (8.7 percent vs. 2.0 percent).

Students from low-, middle-, and high-income families experienced an overall decline in dropout rates during the three-decade period of the mid-1970s through 2008.

All three groups of students experienced declines in dropout rates from 1975 through 1990.

Those from low-income families had rates that fell from 15.7 percent to 9.5 percent.

Students from middle-income families had rates fall from 6.0 percent to 4.3 percent and those from high-income families had rates fall from 2.6 percent to 1.1 percent.

From 1990 to 1995, students from low-income families experienced an upward trend in rates from 9.5 percent to 13.3 percent, while their peers from middle- and high-income families experienced no measurable change.

In the last 13 years (1995–2008), the event rates for low-income and middle-income families trended downward.

While dropout rates for students from high-income families fluctuated and no measurable trend was found during the same 13-year period, there was no measurable difference between their 1995 and 2008 rates (2.0 percent in both years).


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