Children Who Start School Later Are More Likely To Drop Out, Study Shows

First Posted: Mar 19, 2015 03:34 PM EDT

A new study by researchers at Duke University shows that children who start kindergarten a bit later are more likely to drop out of school and commit serious crimes. However, the outcomes are more likely for children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who start later start out with a bit of an advantage. 

"This research provides the first compelling evidence of a causal link between dropout and crime. It supports the view that crime outcomes should be considered in evaluating school reforms," said lead author Philip J. Cook, a professor in Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy, in a news release

"Dropouts are greatly over-represented in prison, so we know there is a strong association between dropping out and crime," Cook added. "But to establish causation requires an experiment. My analysis takes advantage of nature's experiment associated with birth date."

For the study, researchers compared North Carolina public school students who were born 60 days before and 60 days after the school cutoff date. At that time of the study, North Carolina children had to turn 5 by Oct. 16 to be eligible to enter kindergarten that year.

The study contradicts previous findings that show how children born after the entry cutoff date typically perform better than their younger classmates, which is typically more common in boys than girls and whites than African Americans.

"Up until the 16th birthday, it is all positive," Cook added. "They are doing better, relative to their classmates, by every measure. It makes sense, because they are more mature."

However, after the age of 16, all that seemed to change, according to Cook. The students who entered at a date that was older for their age were more likely to withdraw from school, which is 16 in North Carolina.

Among the old-for-grade students, the likelihood of dropping out and being convicted of a serious crime is 3.4 times greater for those born to an unwed mother and 2.7 times greater for those whose mothers were high school dropouts.

"Should you redshirt your kid? Well, on the one hand, he'll do better while he's in school and is less likely to become delinquent. On the other hand, he'll be more likely to drop out before graduation, and bad things may follow that," Cook concluded. 

However, the researchers reiterated that more studies are needed to confirm the results.

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the American Economic Journal-Applied Economics.

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