The Effects of Poor Education Over a Lifetime


Although there are wealthy entrepreneurs who dropped out of high school, a lack of education usually hurts health, employment and finances, and has costs to society as well as the individual. The U.S. Department of Education reports that 6 percent of female and 7 percent of male students failed to complete high school in 2012. The New York Times reported in 2012 that about 1.3 million students drop out each year.

Dropouts Tend to Be Less Healthy

  • A National Bureau of Economic Research study covering 75,000 to 100,000 Americans found that the more poorly educated people are, the more likely they are to have illnesses including heart disease, diabetes or depression. For example, four additional years of education reduced the chances of heart disease by 2.16 percent and diabetes risk by 1.3 percent. A lack of literacy and reduced access to health care were harmful to health, the NBER study found.

A Cost to Society

  • The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network reported that the annual cost to society in crime and public welfare due to dropouts was approximately $24 billion in 2004. People without high school diplomas pay 58 percent less in state and federal income tax over their lifetimes, Brookings Institution researcher Cecelia Rouse estimated. Prison costs are also higher due to dropouts. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 68 percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts.

More Likely to Be Unemployed

  • PBS Frontline reported that high school dropouts of all ages who were looking for work had an unemployment rate of 12 percent in August 2012, as compared to the 8.1 percent national average. In 2012, a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of recent dropouts aged 16 to 24 found that their jobless rate, which also includes people not actively seeking work, was 49.6 percent.

Less Pay Over a Lifetime

  • Lifetime earnings of dropouts average $260,000 less than graduates, according to the Brookings Institution. High school dropouts earned about $23,400 a year in 2012, while graduates made $33,500, and four-year college graduates averaged $54,700, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Dropouts are also less likely than graduates to receive benefits through employer-sponsored pension plans or health insurance, according to Brookings Institution researcher Cecilia Rouse.


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