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.
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).