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WHEN GIRLS DON’T GRADUATE, WE ALL FAIL: New Report Finds that Female Dropouts Face Greater Economic Challenges than Male Counterparts

"The high school dropout crisis has received significant recent attention but almost exclusively as a problem for boys. It is generally overlooked that girls are also failing to graduate at alarmingly high rates," said Marcia D. Greenberger

Although American girls are slightly less likely to drop out of high school than boys, they are likely to be more negatively impacted from an economic standpoint, according to a recent report from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) titled When Girls Don’t Graduate, We All Fail: A Call to Improve High School Graduation Rates for Girls. In fact, the report finds that female dropouts earn significantly lower wages than male dropouts, are at greater risk of unemployment, and are more likely to rely on public support programs.

“The high school dropout crisis has received significant recent attention but almost exclusively as a problem for boys. It is generally overlooked that girls are also failing to graduate at alarmingly high rates,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center.

When Girls Don’t Graduate declares that 520,000 of the 1.2 million dropouts who would have graduated with the Class of 2007 were female. Additionally, the report estimates that approximately one out of every four girls fails to graduate on time. Figures are even worse for students of color; the NWLC finds that 37 percent of Hispanic girls, 40 percent of African American girls, and 50 percent of Native American and Alaskan Native girls do not graduate on time. That compares to 48 percent for Hispanic boys, 54 percent for black boys, and 55 percent for American Indian boys, according to Education Week’s report Diplomas Count, which was also used by the NWLC.

The report focuses on both the financial and social consequences that female dropouts face. In terms of economics, When Girls Don’t Graduate states that females who drop out are more likely to have problems finding employment. A 2006 study cited in the report found that while 77 percent of all male dropouts were employed, only 53 percent of female dropouts were. Furthermore, the NWLC report states, though women earn less money than men at all levels of education, the wage gap is especially wide between male and female dropouts. With an average wages of $15,530 a year, women who drop out of high school earn $9,100 less than their male counterparts-in other words, just 63 cents for every dollar a male dropout earns.

Research in the report hints at a possible correlation between mothers who have dropped out of high school and their children’s-particularly their daughters’-educational attainment. “Although children are particularly at risk of dropping out themselves in families where one or both parents are high school dropouts, the educational level of mothers may make a greater difference,” the report reads. “A recent study of female students found that while the daughters of men who graduate from high school are 15 percent less likely to drop out of school than daughters whose fathers dropped out, the daughters of women who graduate from high school are one-third less likely to drop out of school than daughters of women who dropped out.”

The report goes on to detail the ways in which keeping girls in school “serves broad societal goals,” such as enhancing tax revenues and then outlines factors that seem to correlate with a high risk of dropping out. Virtually all of the factors listed-except for pregnancy-are the same risk factors associated with boys.

“Far too many boys and girls will fail to make it to graduation day on time, if at all,” said Jocelyn Samuels, NWLC vice president for education and employment. “This is more than a boys’ problem-or a girls’ problem. It is a societal problem. We owe it to all our students to address this serious issue promptly.”

To combat the dropout crisis, NWLC recommends that more gender-based research be performed to identify factors that may affect male and female students differently and to determine which interventions are the most effective for specific groups. The report, which lists nine recommendations in all, also recommends that data collection on educational performance and graduation rates be improved, school accountability be increased, additional support be provided for pregnant and parenting students, and that girls’ access to rigorous career and technical education be ensured.

The report is available at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.