Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools


You are here: Home / Research / Selected Research / Inequality and Teenage "Drop Out" Behaviors

Inequality and Teenage "Drop Out" Behaviors

Melissa Kearney and colleagues examine a hypothetical "desperation" effect on economically disadvantaged students through a grant funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation

Faculty Associate Melissa Kearney and her collegues are examining empirically how income inequality relates to individual level decisions regarding high school completion. They speculate that inequality has, on net, a “desperation” effect, rather than an “aspiration” effect, leading economically disadvantaged students to give up on their educational investments. They are investigating whether economically disadvantaged adolescents are relatively more likely to drop out of school if they live in more unequal places, as compared to their counterparts in more equal places. They will also empirically consider the role of potential confounding factors to help establish whether any relationship is causal. They will also explore potential mediating factors, such as public-school funding or residential segregation As an extension, the team will consider -- conceptually and empirically -- how high-stakes testing requirements interact with income inequality in affecting individual-level outcomes. Findings will have important implications for the types of policies that are likely to be effective at encouraging low-achieving students to remain in school. If higher levels of income inequality discourage economically disadvantaged adolescents from remaining committed to educational investment, it becomes crucial to implement policies and reforms that keep education relevant for those at the bottom of the income distribution.

Preliminary work on this project was supported by an MPRC Seed Grant.