Young men continuing their education are 52% less likely to commit crime

Being admitted to upper secondary education at age 16 greatly reduces young men’s propensity to commit crime, research from Aalto University School of Business in Finland reveals.

Associate Professor Kristiina Huttunen from the Department of Economics at Aalto University School of Business, finds that male teenagers who obtain a place in upper secondary education are 52 percent less likely to be convicted in a district court within 10 years of being admitted.

The researchers add that being admitted to a vocational or academic path in upper secondary education has no effect on men’s likelihood of committing minor crimes, nor does whether they study at an “elite” school or not. Obtaining a place at any school is what has a sizeable impact.

“Applying to secondary education is the first crucial choice adolescents make in most education systems. It usually coincides with the end of compulsory school and the age when the propensity to commit a crime rises sharply. The choices students make at this stage affect who is in their peer groups, and making a mistake can increase the chances of dropout,” says Professor Huttunen.

During the study period, compulsory education in Finland ended in the May of the year students turned 16. They had the option of entering academic or vocational upper secondary education, which usually lasts for another three years.

At the same time, the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Finland is 15. From this age, the likelihood of male students engaging in minor crimes rises rapidly, peaking at ages 19-20, says Huttunen.

This study analyzed data on the eight cohorts of male students who applied to upper secondary education between 1996-2003 from the Finnish joint application registry. Criminal activity is measured using information from district court rulings.

The paper was published in The Journal of Public Economics.