A new study: Crime rates higher among those with no secondary education

A study conducted by researchers from the VATT Institute for Economic Research, the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy and the University of Helsinki indicates that access to secondary education clearly reduces the probability of committing crimes for boys.

Not being accepted into secondary education may have a long-term impact on young people's lives. A recent study based on data gathered in Finland shows that boys who have only just managed to be accepted into secondary education are significantly less likely to commit crimes than boys who have not been accepted at all. The impact on the probability of committing a crime was significant particularly over the short term, within five years of gaining entry to secondary education.

No such impact was observed for girls. Girls commit crimes less frequently than boys, and not being accepted into secondary education does not increase the crime rates for girls as it does for boys.

Access to secondary education led to biggest decreases in the categories of property and traffic offences, but had no impact on violent crime.

The study conducted by Kristiina Huttunen, Tuomas Pekkarinen, Roope Uusitalo and Hanna Virtanen examined the impact of education on crime rates by comparing the paths of people who had been accepted into secondary education and those who had not during a ten-year period.

“For boys who only just made the minimum entry level, 8% commit a crime within five years; of those who remain below this level and are not accepted, one in five, or 20%, commit a crime. This is a notable impact”, says research professor Tuomas Pekkarinen from the VATT Institute for Economic Research.

Previous studies have shown that graduating from secondary education has many positive effects on factors such as employment and income level, as skills that are in demand in the labour market are not acquired until that level of education.

According to the researchers, the transfer from primary to secondary education is a critical step where young people often need support.

“These results support the goal of increasing the student intake in popular fields. In addition, the fact that the probability of committing a crime drops immediately when being accepted to a school supports the idea of increasing the length of compulsory education”, says Tuomas Pekkarinen.

The study is based on data from the joint application system of Finnish secondary schools from 1996 to 2003. The data also includes information on the minimum entry requirements of secondary education programmes as well as verdicts issued by district courts.

The study compares two groups: those who have been accepted into secondary education very close to the acceptance limit, and those who have remained below the limit with a similar margin. This allowed for an assessment of causality, as the people close to the entry limit below or above it are similar.

The study is part of the multidisciplinary My Path project funded by the Strategic Research Council (SRC). The purpose of the project is to provide decision-makers with researched information with the aim of preventing social exclusion, and to offer tools to support successful entry into secondary education. Information package on the results of the Lost Boys study (in Finnish): http://omalinja.fi/

Research report:
Lost Boys: Access to Secondary Education and Crime. VATT Working Papers.

Further information:
Research Professor Tuomas Pekkarinen, VATT, tel. +358 (0)295 519 465
Research Professor Kristiina Huttunen, VATT, tel. +358 (0)50 549 3368
Professor Roope Uusitalo, University of Helsinki, tel. +358 (0)40 805 4863
Researcher Hanna Virtanen, Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, tel. +358 (0)44 589 0448