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Dropout Rates in the United States: 2000

Event and Status Dropout Rates


The CPS includes family income data that can be used to provide information about how socioeconomic background is related to the decisions of youth to drop out of school. Of course, the range of factors that may affect the life decisions of youth extend beyond the economic conditions associated with family income; however, in the absence of additional measures, family income serves as a good indicator for the other social and economic factors that are likely to be related to a youth's decision to stay in school9.

In 2000, young adults living in families with incomes in the lowest 20 percent of all family incomes were six times as likely as their peers from families in the top 20 percent of the income distribution to drop out of high school. Ten percent of students from families in the lowest 20 percent of the income distribution dropped out of high school; by way of comparison, 5.2 percent in the middle 60 percent of the income distribution dropped out, as did 1.6 percent of students from families with incomes in the top 20 percent (table 1).

Most of the declines in dropout rates for all income groups occurred in the 1970s and 1980s (figure 1 and table B3). Since 1990, event dropout rates for all income groups have stabilized. For example, since 1990, event dropout rates for low-income youth have fluctuated between 9.5 and 13.3 percent. Event rates for young adults living in middle- and high-income families have also shown no upward or downward trend since 1990, with rates fluctuating between 3.8 and 5.7 percent, and 1.0 and 2.7 percent, respectively.

Income is only one of a number of closely linked background factors that may be related to a student's decision to drop out of school; others include race/ethnicity, age, sex, school and community factors, and geographic region of residence. Analyses of all the specific interactions among intervening variables that mediate the dropout decision are beyond the scope of this report. Instead, this report reviews some of the primary factors that are associated with higher event dropout rates10.

9The variable used to assess family income is derived from a single question asked of the household respondent in the October CPS. In some cases, a 15- through 24-year-old is unrelated to the household head or is the head of the household (or spouse/companion of the head). Because family income for a 15- through 24-year-old is defined as the current household income of the family of the household respondent, reported incomes may not reflect the family background of all youth. See appendix D for a more detailed discussion.

10For coverage on the interaction of race/ethnicity with other factors, the interested reader is referred to G. Natriello, ed., School Dropouts: Patterns and Policies (New York: Teachers College Press, 1987). For an ethnographic depiction of these factors at work, see M. Fine, Framing Dropouts (New York: State University of New York Press, 1991).

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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education