Shifting School Start Times Could Contribute $83 Billion To US Economy

The RAND Corporation has released the first-ever, state-by-state analysis of the economic implications of a shift in school start times in the U.S., showing that a nationwide move to 8.30 a.m. could contribute $83 billion to the U.S. economy within a decade.

Even after just two years, the study, which included 47 states, projects a national economic gain of $8.6 billion, which would already outweigh the costs per student from delaying school start times to 8:30 a.m. The costs per student are largely due to transportation, such as rescheduling bus routes and times, which would be affected by the school start time change.

The study used a novel macroeconomic model to project economic gains to the U.S. economy over 20 years from 2017, with this being around $140 billion after 15 years. On average, this corresponds to an annual gain of about $9.3 billion each year, which is roughly the annual revenue of Major League Baseball.

The economic gains projected through the study’s model would be realised through the higher academic and professional performance of students, and reduced car crash rates among adolescents.

Previous estimates show that one additional hour of sleep is, on average, estimated to increase the probability of high school graduation by 13.3 percent and college attendance rate by 9.6 percent. These positive effects impact the jobs that adolescents are able to obtain in the future and, in turn, have a direct effect on how much a particular person contributes toward the economy in future financial earnings.

Data for car crash fatalities reveal that around 20 percent involved a driver impaired by sleepiness, drowsiness or fatigue. The impact of car crashes and young adults dying prematurely has a negative impact on the future labor supply of an economy.

From a health perspective, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association recommend that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to accommodate the known biological shift in adolescent sleep-wake schedules. However, a previous study from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 82 percent of middle and high schools in the U.S. start before 8:30 a.m., with an average start time of 8:03 a.m.

School start times are increasingly becoming a hotly debated topic in school districts across the U.S., while the California legislature is considering a proposal to mandate that start times for middle and high schools be no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Wendy Troxel, senior behavioral and social scientist at the RAND Corporation, says, “For years we’ve talked about inadequate sleep among teenagers being a public health epidemic, but the economic implications are just as significant. From a policy perspective, the potential implications of the study are hugely important. The significant economic benefits from simply delaying school start times to 8.30 a.m. would be felt in a matter of years, making this a win-win, both in terms of benefiting the public health of adolescents and doing so in a cost-effective manner.”

Marco Hafner, a senior economist at RAND Europe, the European affiliate of the RAND Corporation, says, “A small change could result in big economic benefits over a short period of time for the U.S. In fact, the level of benefit and period of time it would take to recoup the costs from the policy change is unprecedented in economic terms.”

Even though it is recommended that teenagers need an average of 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night, up to 60 percent of middle school and high school students report weeknight sleep duration of less than seven hours.

Previous evidence has shown that a lack of sleep among adolescents is associated with numerous adverse outcomes, including poor physical and mental health, behavioural problems, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and attention and concentration problems.

“Throughout the cost-benefit projections, we have taken a conservative approach when establishing the economic gains,” Hafner said. “We have not included other effects from insufficient sleep, such as higher suicide rates, increased obesity and mental health issues, which are all difficult to quantify precisely. Therefore, it is likely that the reported economic and health benefits from delaying school start times could be even higher across many U.S. states.”

The study follows a previous piece of research from RAND Europe in November 2016 that showed that the U.S. sustains economic losses of up to $411 billion a year (2.28 percent of its GDP) due to insufficient sleep among its workforce.

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