Pushing school start times to 8:30 a.m. could add billions to the US economy

  • A study from the RAND Corporation and RAND Europe found delayed start times could add $83 billion to the US economy by 2027.
  • The increases would come from improved high school graduation rates leading to better jobs and fewer costs associated with sleep-related car crashes, obesity, and mental illness.
  • Schools may need to make short-term investments, but the long-term upsides could be worth it.

A new study has discovered a simple way to add billions of dollars to the US economy: delay school start times.

According to a new study published by the RAND Corporation and RAND Europe, moving the first bell to 8:30 a.m. across America's middle and high schools could add some $9.3 billion to the economy within the next year and $83 billion over the next decade.

"Everybody's always talking about the costs," Marco Hafner, lead author of the study and research leader at the RAND Corporation, told Business Insider, pointing to the costs of changing bus routes and the hassle of shifting school activities. "But no one's really talking about the benefits."

Schools have been slow to adapt to the wisdom of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which have said that, for health reasons, pre-teens and teenagers shouldn't start school any earlier than 8:30 a.m.

"The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores, and an overall better quality of life," pediatrician Judith Owens, lead author of a 2014 AAP policy report, said in a statement.

Some states — as well as individual districts and schools — have taken steps to follow those recommendations; however, many more have said the move isn't feasible from a scheduling standpoint. In certain cases, Hafner said, schools have needed to push their athletics back to compensate for lost time. Others are forced to invest in more buses, since the single fleet that used to get kids at different times now must get them all at once.

Roughly 93% of high schools and 83% of middle schools in the US start before 8:30 a.m., according to a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the latest study, researchers relied on CDC data comprising school start times from 47 states. They used that data to build an economic model on the effects that car crashes and high school graduation rates have on economic gain in a given state.

RELATED: Check out the first day of school around the world: 

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The first day of school around the world
Students perform during an event to mark the upcoming start of another school year in Minsk, Belarus, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
Schoolchildren enter the primary school Jules Ferry in Fontenay-sous-Bois near Paris, on the start of the new school year in France, September 1, 2015. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Palestinian children sit inside a classroom on the first day of school at al-Shafi'i school in Gaza City September 4, 2011. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa (GAZA - Tags: EDUCATION)
Satrio Wibowo (R) waits for a train to pass as he makes his journey home after attending the first day of school at an Islamic kindergarten, after the Christmas and New Year holidays, at the Tanah Abang slum district in Jakarta January 7, 2013. Indonesia has more than one million children, mainly from poor families, who are not in school as of 2012, said Arist Merdeka Sirait, chief of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas PA), to a local newspaper in December 2012. REUTERS/Beawiharta (INDONESIA - Tags: RELIGION EDUCATION SOCIETY POVERTY)
Children sit inside a classroom on their first day of school at Shimizu elementary school in Fukushima, northern Japan April 6, 2011. Over 70 schools began their regular classes on Wednesday in the city of Fukushima, after the earthquake and tsunami that hit the country on March 11. REUTERS/Carlos Barria (JAPAN - Tags: DISASTER EDUCATION SOCIETY)
A teacher speaks to her students in a classroom on the first day of a new school term in Tripoli September 17, 2011 . REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny (LIBYA - Tags: POLITICS EDUCATION CONFLICT)
Preschooler Amni Roslan, 6, stays in class as he refuses to join his classmates for outdoor activities during his first day of school in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur January 2, 2013. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad
Students wait on line to enter to their classroom on the first day of school in Managua February 11, 2013. Around 1.6 million students are expected to start their new academic year, according to the Ministry of Education of Nicaragua. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas (NICARAGUA - Tags: EDUCATION)
Students participate in morning exercises during the first day of class at Rosauro Almario Elementary School in Tondo city, metro Manila, Philippines June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
A Syrian child inspects a book in the Hussien Zein school in the Damascus suburb of Sahnaya September 14, 2014. Syrian children returned to school in Damascus for the new academic year, as the country's civil war rages on. At the Hussien Zein school, there was little evidence on Sunday that Syria is in the midst of a bloody conflict.The school courtyard was packed as children returned after an extended summer break. UNICEF said in July that approximately three million Syrian children had been displaced, one million children were out of school, and another million were at risk of dropping out due to insecurity. Attendance rates are as low as 36 percent in areas that are hard to reach. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki (SYRIA - Tags: SOCIETY EDUCATION)
First graders take part in a ceremony to mark the start of another school year in Kiev, Ukraine, September 1, 2015. September 1 marks the start of a new academic year for students in Ukraine. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 04: Hector Martinez Galeano (right), 6, skips up the steps leading to PS 171 Patrick Henry School on E. 103rd St., as he holds the hand of his 4-year-old brother Hector, on the first day of school for New York City's public schools. (Photo by Susan Watts/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)


Results showed marked increases in students' long-term output once they entered the working world. Over a 15-year period, the data indicated an additional $140 billion should be added to the US economy.

Hafner said he had no expectations going into the study, and he conceded that $140 billion is small relative to the US gross domestic product of $18.57 trillion. But he also added that $9.3 billion a year is nothing to sneeze at — it's roughly the annual revenue of Major League Baseball.

Plus, their estimates err on the conservative side, he said.

According to Hafner, the team's model doesn't account for other consequences of early start times, such as increased obesity rates, which have an annual cost of roughly $45 billion. And research has suggested that teens who haven't slept enough are more likely to commit violent crime and damage property, both of which carry annual costs in the billions, the authors say. Decreases in mental illness are likely to bring costs down, too.

"People mainly talk about the cost implications," Hafner said. "But I think this could be a good contribution to the whole kind of feedback about it. It's not only about public health, it's not only about cost — it's actually good for the economy."

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SEE ALSO: Schools around the US are finally pushing back their start times — and it's working

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