Home | About Us | What's New | Data Briefs | Our Funders | Help
The Child & Youth Indicators Databank: All you need to know, always up to date.  
Enter keyword(s)
Advanced Search

High School Dropout Rates
View as PDF (Best for Printing)


Among youth ages 16 to 24, Hispanics accounted for 41 percent of all current high school dropouts in 2005. However, they only made up 17 percent of the total youth population. (See Table 1)


Young people who drop out of high school are unlikely to have the minimum skills and credentials necessary to function in today's increasingly complex society and technological workplace. The completion of high school is required for accessing post-secondary education and is a minimum requirement for most jobs.1 High school dropouts are more likely than high school completers to be unemployed.2 Additionally, a high school diploma leads to higher income and occupational status.3 Interestingly, however, many youth who drop out of high school eventually earn a diploma or a GED. 4 One study found that 63 percent of students who dropped out had earned a diploma or GED within eight years of the year they should have originally graduated.5

Studies have found that young adults with low education and skill levels are more likely to live in poverty and to receive government assistance.6 High school dropouts are likely to stay on public assistance longer than those with at least a high school degree. Further, high school dropouts are more likely to become involved in crime.7


Dropout rates of young people ages 16 to 24 in the civilian, non-institutionalized population gradually declined between 1972 and 2005, from 15 percent to a low of 9 in 2005. (See Table 2) In this indicator, dropouts are defined as individuals ages 16 to 24 who are not enrolled in and have not completed high school. In 1972, the dropout rate among non-Hispanic blacks was 21 percent, 12 percent among non-Hispanic whites, and 34 percent for Hispanic youth. These rates have since declined substantially for each group. The dropout rate for non-Hispanic black youth reached an historic low of 11 percent in 2005. (See Figure 1) This drop is at least in part related to increased incarceration rates among black male high school dropouts, which more than doubled between 1980 and 1999, thus removing them from the civilian non-institutionalized population on which these estimates are based.8 Rates among Hispanic youth have declined in last few years from 30 percent in 1998 to 23 percent in 2005.

Differences by Race and Ethnicity

Black and Hispanic youth are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to drop out of high school. In 2005, 6 percent of non-Hispanic whites ages 16 to 24 were not enrolled in school and had not completed high school, compared with 11 percent of blacks and 23 percent of Hispanics. (See Figure 1) The high rate for Hispanics is in part the result of the high proportion of immigrants in this age group who never attended school in the U.S.9 Asian youth, with a dropout rate of 3 percent, had the lowest dropout rate among all racial and ethnic groups in 2005. (See Table 1)

Note: Estimates for 2005 reflect the new Office of Management and Budget race definitions, and include only those who are identified with a single race. Hispanics may be of any race.

> Back to Top

Differences by Gender

In 2005, 11 percent of males ages 16 to 24 were high school dropouts, compared with 8 percent of females. Although males comprise 51 percent of the population, they make up 58 percent of the dropouts in this age group. (See Figure 2)

Differences by Immigration Status

The dropout rates for high-school students ages 16 to 24 vary by immigration status. Foreign-born students had a dropout rate of 24 percent in 2005, compared with 16 percent for children born in the U.S. to foreign-born parents, both of which are higher than the national average. While foreign-born students make up 11 percent of the total population of students in this age group, they make up 29 percent of the dropout population. (See Figure 3)

Related Indicators

Educational Attainment

> Back to Top

State and Local Estimates

State estimates from 2000 through 2005 are available from:

State estimates from 2002 through 2004 are available from:

International Estimates

International estimates are available from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) at:
(See Indicator A2)

National Goals

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law January 2002, aims to make sure that all children achieve academic proficiency and gain the educational skills necessary to succeed later in life. The act intends for all students to graduate within four years of starting high school. It also attempts to ensure that children are monitored at an early age to ensure that all children succeed and aims to reduce the achievement gap between subgroups. More information is available at http://www.ed.gov/nclb/landing.jhtml?src=pb.

What Works: Programs and Interventions that May Influence this Indicator

Click here to view examples of programs and interventions that research has evaluated for this indicator. View programs

> Back to Top

Research References

1 Laird, L., Lew, S., Debell, M., and Chapman, C.D. (2001). Dropout Rates in the United States: 2002,2003. NCES 2006-062. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2006/2006062.pdf

2 Goldschmidt, P., and Wang, J. (1999) "When Can Schools Affect Dropout Behavior? A Longitudinal Multilevel Analysis." American Research Journal, 36 (4), 715-738. Caspi, A., Wright, B.E., Moffit, T.E., & Silva, P.A., 1998. "Childhood Predictors of Unemployment in Early Adulthood," American Sociological Review, 63 (3), 424-451.

3Chen, Z., Kaplan, H. (2003). School Failure in Early Adolescence and Status Attainment in Middle Adulthood: A Longitudinal Study." Sociology of Education, 76 (2), 110-127. Miller, P., Mulvey, C. and Martin, N., 1995. "What Do Twins Studies Reveal about the Economic Returns to Education? A Comparison of Australian and U.S. Findings," The American Economic Review, 85(3), 586-599; Sewell, W., Hauser, R., & Wolf, W., 1980. "Sex, Schooling, and Occupational Status," American Journal of Sociology, 86(3), 551 - 583.

4Murnane, R., Willett, J., and Tyler, J. 2000. "Who Benefits from Obtaining a GED? Evidence from High School and Beyond." The Review of Economics and Statistics, 82 (1), 22-37.

5U.S. Department of Education, national Center for Education Statistics. (2004). Issue Brief: Educational Attainment of High School Drop Outs Eight Years Later, NCES 2005-026.

6Laird, L., Lew, S., Debell, M., and Chapman, C.D. (2001). Dropout Rates in the United States: 2002,2003. NCES 2006-062. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2006/2006062.pdf Boisjoly, J., Harris, K., and Duncan, G., 1998. "Initial Welfare Spells: Trends, Events, and Duration," Social Service Review, 72 (4), 466 - 492; Moore, K., Glei, D., Driscoll, A., Zaslow, M., and Redd, Z. (in press). "Poverty and Welfare Patterns: Implications for Children," Journal of Social Policy.

7 Lochner, L., and Moretti, E. (2004). "The Effect of Education on Crime: Evidence from Prison Immates, Arrests, and Self Reports." The American Economic Review, 94 (1), 155-189. Freeman, R. (1996). "Why Do So Many Young American Men Commit Crimes and What Might We Do About It?" Journal of Economic Perspectives, 10(1), 25 - 42.

8Western, B. and Pettit, B. (2002). "Beyond Crime and Punishment: Prisons and Inequality". Contexts, 1:37-43.

9Fry, Richard. (2003). "Hispanic Youth Dropping Out of U.S. Schools: Measuring the Challenge." Pew Hispanic Center. http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=19

10Note: status dropout rate differs from event dropout rate, which is measured as the percentage of young people aged 15 through 24 who dropped out of grades 10 through 12 in the past year.

11U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2001). Dropout rates in the United States: 2000, NCES 2002-114, by P. Kaufman, M.N. Alt, & C.D. Chapman. Washington, DC: Author, p. 2. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/droppub_2001/

> Back to Top


This indicator uses the status dropout rate10 which measures the percentage of young adults aged 16 through 24 in the civilian, non-institutionalized population who were not enrolled in a high school program and had not received a high school diploma or obtained an equivalency certificate.11

While this indicator uses status dropout rate, other indicators such as on-time high school completion or high school graduation rates are also used to measure high school outcomes.

For more information see the Urban Institute's "High School Graduation, Completion, and Dropout (GCD) Indicators" available at: http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/411116_GCDCatalog.pdf

Data Source

Data for 2005: Child Trends' calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, School Enrollment--Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: October 2005: Detailed Tables: Table 1. hhttp://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/school/cps2005.html

Data for 2004: Child Trends' calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, School Enrollment--Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: October 2004: Detailed Tables: Table 1. hhttp://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/school/cps2004.html

Data for 2003: Child Trends' calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, School Enrollment--Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: October 2003: Detailed Tables: Table 1. http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/school/cps2003.html

Data for 2002: Child Trends' calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, School Enrollment--Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: October 2002: Detailed Tables: Table 1. http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/school/cps2002.html

All other data: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education 2003. NCES 2003-067. Washington, DC: 2003. Tables 17-1 and 17-2. Based on October Current Population Surveys analysis. http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2003067

Raw Data Source

U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, October Current Population Survey, various years

Approximate Date of Next Update

Summer 2008

> Back to Top

View as PDF
(Best for Printing)

Trends &
Subgroup Differences
Related Indicators
State, Local &
International Estimates
National Goals
What Works: Programs that May Influence this Indicator
Definition, Data
& Next Update

Supporting Figures
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3

Supporting Tables
Table 1
Table 2
  Site Design by WebFirst
Subgroup Age Alphabet Indicators with separate estimates by subgroup: race, 
ethnicity, family structure, income, welfare receipt, etc. Age Alphabetically