Later start times could boost the US economy

The RAND Corporation and RAND Europe have released the first-ever, state-by-state analysis (in 47 states) of the economic implications of a shift in school start times in the US, showing that a nationwide move to 8.30 AM could contribute $83 billion to the US economy within a decade.


(Dan DeLuca / Flickr Creative Commons)

Even after just two years, the study 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. 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 US 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 realized 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 to accommodate the known biological shift in adolescent sleep-wake schedules. But a previous study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 82 percent of middle and high schools in the US start before 8:30 (average of 8:03).

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

Wendy Troxel, a social scientist at RAND, 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 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.”