Working paper

School truancy and welfare receipt dynamics in early adulthood: a longitudinal study

Truancy School attendance Welfare recipients High school students Australia

Skipping school without a valid excuse — school truancy — is a common behaviour during adolescence, and is associated with lifetime costs to individuals, families, and communities. In this study, we explore the association between school truancy in high school and later, during the early stages of young people’s transition to adulthood, one’s chances of receiving cash transfers from the Australian Government. This measure combines cash transfers one receives in the form of income and non-income support payments from the government. Our longitudinal study follows a sample of 787 young people from when most are aged 15 or 16 years, to when most are aged 20 to 21 years, by which time many young people have engaged in the paid work, tertiary studies, or both.

Exploring for a relationships or associations (not cause and effect), we found that the average person who truants in late adolescence has 4.5 times higher chances of receiving cash transfers from the government in their transition from late adolescence to adulthood. When we explore the effects of higher frequency truants, or “problem truants”, we find that they have 4.8 times higher changes of receiving government cash transfers in the same time period, compared to the average person who does not truant in late adolescence. This higher probability, we found, did not change over time. Instead, the gap between truants’ and non-truants’ probability of welfare receipt remained consistent over the study period.

This study’s results are relevant to academics, policy makers, and practitioners, both in Australia and overseas, in the pursuit of evidence-based policy that makes a positive, sustained impact on truancy: a perennial and costly social problem. From a social services policy standpoint, these result have relevance for discussions about the dynamics of disadvantage in young people’s transition from adolescence to adulthood, and the suitability of policies that relate to conditionality that government places on cash transfers. From an education policy standpoint, our results make a unique contribution to identifying the myriad costs associated with truancy, and — in a new contribution to the scholarly literature — demonstrate that truanting frequently may not matter as much as any degree of truanting, at least on the outcome of welfare receipt.

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Life Course Centre Working Paper No. 2019-29