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Higher school starting age reduces crime

New research shows that the propensity among boys to commit crime is lowered if school start is postponed one year. Nonetheless, researchers warn against postponing school start.


[Translate to English:] Foto: Colourbox

Would it benefit my child to start school one year later? This is a question that many Danish parents ask themselves every year. New research from Aarhus University and the Rockwool Foundation Research Unit now provides part of the answer.

Based on a rich set of register-based data, researchers have followed all Danish children born between 1981 and 1993, tracking their way through the educational system and crimes committed subsequent to their 15th birthday.

The results show that both girls and boys are charged with fewer crimes prior to their 18th birthday if they start school at the age of seven and a half compared to the age of six and a half.

However, later school starting age does not affect the total number of crimes committed by girls, as they simply tend to commit crime after they have turned 18. But a later school starting age continues to have a positive effect among boys, since they also commit fewer crimes subsequent to their 18th birthday.

Do not change school starting age

The results are remarkable, because previous research has only barely been able to prove any long-term effects caused by higher school starting age. However, Norwegian studies suggest that a higher school starting age lowers the risk of teenage pregnancies.

Although there are indications that school reduces criminal behaviour among teenagers, researchers do not recommend postponing school start in Denmark.

- To postpone school start only to reduce crime rates that are already low would indicate a lack of ambition. It also involves additional costs with respect to lost tax revenue, since a higher school starting age leads to later entrance to the labour market, says Helena Skyt Nielsen from the Department of Economics and Business. She is the initiator of the project together with Associate Professor Marianne Simonsen from the Department of Economics and Business as well as Researcher Rasmus Landersø from the Rockwool Foundation Research Unit. 

Furthermore, according to Helena Skyt Nielsen a closer look at the figures reveals that the positive effect of higher school starting age is not evenly distributed among boys. Factors such as intellectual and behavioural capabilities have a significant impact on the effect. The most advantaged boys commit fewer crimes if they start school one year later.

- Therefore, one of the most interesting results of the research is that we need additional knowledge on how to help disadvantaged children before they start school. We do not prevent children from committing crimes merely by postponing school start, says Helena Skyt Nielsen.

Teaching in nurseries

Helena Skyt Nielsen believes that we should concentrate more on the effects of early teaching and stimulation of children in order to help disadvantaged children. Professor Michael Rosholm, head of TrygFonden’s Centre for Child Research, agrees.

He explains that many American studies show that making an effort to help disadvantaged children before they start school will improve their performance at school and their career opportunities and wage level later in life.

The problem is that there are hardly any Danish studies in the area. But in the next six years, Michael Rosholm will be heading the centre's research activities in this particular field, among others, with a budget of DKK 60 million.

- We suspect that children who leave the educational system lacking the necessary competences to continue their education simply had not been ready to learn when they started first grade. In fact, many children do not possess basic learning abilities when they start school. Therefore, we focus many of our efforts on the early stages of children's lives to gain more knowledge on how to develop good learning abilities and gain socio-economically advantaged children, says Michael Rosholm.

Facts on crime and higher school starting age (for all boys and girls born between 1981 and 1993):

Crimes reported prior to the 18th birthday regardless of school starting age:

- Approximately 5% of the girls and nearly 20% of the boys have been charged with a crime prior to their 18th birthday.

The likelihood of the child being charged with a crime prior to his/her 18th birthday, if the child starts school at the age of 6.6 rather than the age of 7.6:

-  1.6 percentage points higher for girls and 3.6 percentage points higher for boys.

Further information:

The work of TrygFonden’s Centre for Child Research is distributed on 10 projects

The overall aim of these projects is to investigate the efficiency of the many different efforts made in Denmark to help children and adolescents and to judge how they are evaluated in the best possible way.

The projects targeted at the early stages of children's lives focus on linguistic stimulation between mother and child and systematic learning of languages and numbers in nurseries.
The projects targeted at older children focus on how to reduce school absenteeism and how to encourage positive behaviour at school.

Contact information:


Helena Skyt Nielsen, Professor
Aarhus University, Department of Economics and Business
School of Business and Social Sciences
E: hnielsen@econ.au.dk
T: +45 8716 5553
M: +45 2921 6971

Michael Rosholm, Professor
Aarhus University, Department of Economics and Business
School of Business and Social Sciences
E: rom@asb.dk
T: +45 8716 4832


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