Media Briefings

Cutting Crime Through Education: Evidence From British School-leavers

  • Published Date: May 2011

One year of extra education significantly reduces property crime – and the costs of extra
schooling are outweighed by the social benefits associated with reduced crime. These are
the central findings of research by Professor Stephen Machin, Olivier Marie and Sunčica
, published in the May 2011 issue of the Economic Journal.
Their study looks at the crime rates of a cohort of British school-leavers, some of whom
were forced to stay in school for longer because of a legal change to the school-leaving age
in 1972. It turns out that this group was less likely to engage in criminal behaviour than a
slightly older cohort.
The authors calculate that a one year increase in the average age at which young men
leave school generates a roughly 0.3% fall in their property crime conviction rate. When the
researchers focus instead on young men with no educational qualifications, they find that a
1% reduction in the proportion of young men with no qualifications reduces property crime
by between 0.85% and 1%.
The research also shows that the cost of the extra schooling is outweighed by the net social
benefits of reduced property crime of £23-30 million, accrued a decade after the increase in
the school leaving age. These results echo a 2004 study of US crime by Lance Lochner
and Enrico Moretti, which estimated a net social benefit of an extra year of schooling of
about $1.4 billion, resulting from fewer violent crimes.
The difference in the two estimates comes from the fact that the US study identifies a clear
impact of education on violent crime, especially murder, which accounts for 80% of the
estimated crime savings. That result is not replicated in the new study, perhaps because
there are too few murders in the UK to show up statistically. Furthermore, property crimes
represent 70% of all crimes that occur in the UK.
When considering only property crimes that have been prevented, then the US social
benefit estimate is just above $52 million or £35 million, which falls very close to the UK
calculation of the social savings from property crime prevention. Since the population of
England and Wales is more than five times smaller than that of the United States, this
represents a very substantial social benefit per capita.
Until now, few studies have been able to establish that increasing education can cut crime.
But in principle, more years in school should reduce crime by raising young people’s future
earning power from legitimate work and making a criminal career less attractive. Being in
school keeps potential criminals off the streets and possibly exposes them to the right sort
of peers and social attitudes.
There is also evidence that a lack of education is associated with criminal behaviour. For
example, studies of the US jail population in the 1990s showed that most inmates had not
finished high school.
The new research concludes that the existence of a causal crime-reducing effect of
education has potentially important implications for longer-term efforts aimed at reducing
crime. For example, policies that subsidise schooling and human capital investment have
significant potential to reduce crime in the longer run by increasing skill levels.
At the very least, the results confirm that improving education among offenders and
potential offenders should be viewed as a key policy lever that can be used in the drive to
combat crime.
Notes for editors: ‘The Crime Reducing Effect of Education’ by Stephen Machin, Olivier
Marie and Sunčica Vujić is published in the May 2011 issue of the Economic Journal.
Stephen Machin is at University College London and the Centre for Economic Performance
(CEP) at the London School of Economics (LSE). Olivier Marie is at Maastricht University
and the CEP. Sunčica Vujić is at the LSE.
For further information: contact Stephen Machin on +44 207-679-5870 (email:; Olivier Marie on +31 43-388-3789 (email:; Sunčica Vujić +44 207-106-1165 (email: or Romesh Vaitilingam on +44-7768-661095 (email: