Understanding the causes and consequences of dropping out of school: the need for a life-course approach

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STAMIThe main objective in a new research project at NIOH Norway, is to gain a causal understanding of the processes that lead to drop out of upper secondary school, and the subsequent effect it has on lifetime work trajectories.

The development of risk across time and context are seen as crucial in understanding how risk develops. While individual factors, such as cognitive ability and health, are thought to causally influence the risk of dropping out, we hypothesize that part of the association between individual factors and dropping out can be explained by childhood family background, which may increase the risk of dropping out of upper secondary school directly.

Further, we hypothesize that the association between dropping out and later work outcomes is to a large extent explained by both individual factors and childhood family background. We also wish to explore to what extent conditions of the workplace obtained impacts leaving the workforce; how family formation influences both transitions into or out of, the workforce; and to what extent social and economic context influences may weaken or strengthen the pathways between dropping out on later work outcomes.

Our study is based on register data that allows us to follow all individuals in Norway from birth (between 1967 and 1976) up until 2010. We have obtained data on a wide array of explanatory variables from register and health surveys, collected over repeated time-points across the life course. We shall use new analytical methods based on causal inference.

Our findings will inform us as to which mechanisms are leading to decreased work participation and dropping out. This will have implications for where interventions will have the greatest impact. If our findings suggest that most of the effect of dropping out on later outcomes is due to early family conditions, then this would imply that interventions ought to be targeted at family and income policy, as opposed to placing the most focus on school policies and improvements.

Contact: Project leader Ingrid Sivesind Mehlum, ingrid.s.mehlum@stami.no

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