Kids, listen up: don't start dropping out of high school just because Tumblr CEO David Karp (who just sold his Internet company to Yahoo for $1.1 billion) has neither a high school nor a college degree. Quitting the Bronx High School of Science at the age of 14 may have "made mom proud," per The New York Times's Jenna Wortham and Nick Bilton, but for most of you, forgoing a degree is a really bad idea. Yes, Karp, like a couple of other high profile tech millionaires and billionaires — Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs — ditched formal education earlier than most 1 percenters and also managed to succeed. But, they're statistical outliers.
In fact, following Karp's trajectory is an even worse idea than pulling a Zuckerberg, Gates, or Jobs: He never even finished high school. The latest figures have unemployment for those with less than a high school diploma at 11.4 percent, compared with 7.2 percent for high school graduates. 7.2 percent isn't so bad — that's better than the national average, you might say. But, don't stop there. The more education, the better. Unemployment drops all the way to 3.6 percent for those with Bachelor's degrees or higher. The 34 million Americans over 25 who dropped out are 71 percent more likely to be unemployed, according to a recent Atlantic story debunking the myth of the college dropout.
Of course "employment" is only one measure of wealth, but since 1979 the income gap between people with college degrees and people whose education ended in high school has grown, according to Timothy Noah in The New York Times. What Noah calls the rise of the "educated class" includes affluent to rich families in the top 10 percent, with incomes over $111,000, compared to working-class families in the middle 20 percent, with incomes roughly between $39,000 and $62,000. In short: People who go to school longer not only have a better statistical chance at having a job, but at making more money in those jobs.
Sure, it sounds kind of dreamy to skip all that boring (and expensive) educational training, which doesn't even guarantee a fruitful career — especially when a big newspaper like The New York Times repeatedly glorifies the few success stories, or when Mayor Bloomberg suggests forgoing tuition for a career in plumbing. But, unless you're getting $100,000 from Silicon Valley drop-out evangelist Peter Thiel to pursue a business dream, it's statistically a terrible idea.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.