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

59 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2010 Last revised: 10 May 2010

See all articles by D. Mark Anderson

D. Mark Anderson

University of Washington - Economics

Date Written: May 2010


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 United States between 1980 and 2006, a difference-in-difference-in-difference-type 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 individuals aged 16 to 18 years-old, and these estimates are robust to a range of specification checks. The results are consistent with an incapacitation effect; school attendance decreases the time available for criminal activity. A separate analysis of a nationally representative survey of high school students, however, illustrates that crime is potentially displaced from the streets to schools when the minimum dropout age is higher.

Keywords: Minimum dropout age, Juvenile crime, Delinquency

JEL Classification: H75, I20, I28, K42

Suggested Citation

Anderson, D. Mark, In School and Out of Trouble? The Minimum Dropout Age and Juvenile Crime (May 2010). Available at SSRN: or

D. Mark Anderson (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Economics ( email )

Seattle, WA
United States

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