Causes & Effects of Teenagers Dropping Out of School


In 2011, 1.3 million teenagers dropped out of school, according to a June 2011 article from the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI). Teens drop out for various reasons, some of which interact. Poverty -- and the need to go to work early to help support the family – learning disorders, teen pregnancy and school characteristics all affect teen drop-out rates. The effects of dropping out can negatively affect a teen’s entire life.


  • Teens who drop out often do so as the result of a gradual disengagement with school that happens over a period of time, according to a 2009 article on the Future of Children website. Common reasons given are statements such as “didn’t like school.” Poor school performance is a predictor of dropping out, as are absenteeism and discipline problems. Early adult responsibilities, such as the need to go to work, can also have an impact on a teen’s engagement with school and the likelihood that they will drop out. Low socioeconomic status also makes it more likely that a teen will drop out.

Learning Disabilities

  • Although students with emotional disabilities, intellectual disabilities and multiple disabilities are all at risk of dropping out, students who have learning disabilities are more likely to drop out than students with any other type of disability, according to a May 2012 article from the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Students with a learning disorder have a drop-out rate of 14.7 percent. These students were also more likely to display high absenteeism, low grades, problem behavior and limited parental support. Students with learning disabilities who dropped out were also more likely to have moved from school to school and from district to district multiple times during their educational course.


  • For teen girls, pregnancy may be the most important factor in the decision to drop out of school. Thirty percent of teen girls who drop out say that pregnancy was the precipitating cause, according to PPI. When teens who are under 18 have a child, only 38 percent obtain a high school diploma. In addition, PPI notes that teen girls who stay in school are less likely to get pregnant than girls who drop out for a reason other than pregnancy. Teen girls who become pregnant and drop out are much less likely to complete their education past high school. Less than two percent of teens who become mothers before age 18 earn a college degree by the time they are 30.

Long-Term Effects

  • Teens who drop out will suffer ongoing employment issues, according to an October 2009 report from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. The year-round joblessness rate among high school dropouts is 40 percent, compared to less than 20 percent for those who graduate from high school. High school drop-outs were also much more likely to be institutionalized in correctional facilities such as jails and prisons. In 2006-2007, high school drop-outs were nearly four times more likely to be living in poverty than peers of the same age with bachelor’s degrees and to be dependent on federal or state benefits such as food stamps, rental subsidies or Medicaid benefits.


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