NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 19, 2004

The presumption that suburban schools have less disorder and delinquency than urban schools is incorrect, according to a study from the Manhattan Institute.

  • The study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health on 20,000 students in grades seven through twelve, from urban, suburban and rural schools. The results indicated:
  • Two-thirds of students in both urban and suburban schools have had sex; pregnancy rates are high in both types of schools, although urban pregnancy rates were slightly higher (20 percent) than suburban rates (14 percent).
  • Forty percent of 12th graders in both urban and suburban schools have used drugs, while suburban 12th graders were more likely to drive while on drugs (20 percent), compared to urban 12th graders (16 percent).
  • Suburban 12th graders were more likely to have tried alcohol more than two or three times (74 percent) compared to urban students (71 percent), and were more likely to drive drunk (22 percent) than urban students (16 percent).
  • Suburban students were more likely to have tried cigarette smoking (60 percent), compared to urban students (54 percent).

Moreover, other behaviors such as fighting and stealing were equally as likely to occur in suburban and urban schools. In looking at both urban and suburban students, one in three was involved in a physical fight in the past year.

Many have presumably associated urban schools with delinquency, but, according to Senior Fellow Jay Greene, "The comforting outward signs of order and decency in suburban public schools don't seem to be associated with substantial differences in student behavior."

Source: Jay Greene, et al. "Sex, Drugs and Delinquency in Urban and Suburban Public Schools," Education Working Paper No. 4, January 2004, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. "The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health," UNC Carolina Population Center, February 6, 2004.

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