A deep dive on the causes of student absenteeism

Ever wondered why some students seem to miss more school than others? This article dives into the causes of student absenteeism, unraveling the complex web of reasons behind empty desks—from economic hardships and health issues to the impact of family life and the school environment itself. We explore how these factors intertwine to keep students away from school and discuss what can be done to bring them back. Get ready for a deep dive into the challenges and solutions, as we tackle one of education’s most pressing issues.

Key takeaways

  • Economic factors such as inadequate access to transportation and healthcare significantly increase absenteeism, particularly among students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Family involvement and stability, or the lack thereof, play crucial roles. Unstable home environments or significant family obligations can prevent consistent school attendance.
  • Health challenges, both physical and mental, are substantial barriers. Conditions like chronic illnesses or mental health issues such as anxiety can lead to frequent school absences.
  • The school environment itself can deter attendance. Factors such as bullying, poor teacher-student relationships, and an unwelcoming school atmosphere contribute to absenteeism.
  • Comprehensive policy measures and support systems are essential for addressing these diverse causes effectively. Schools need to provide both academic and social support tailored to the needs of their students.
  • Attendance Radar is highlighted as a proactive tool for combating absenteeism. This mobile app helps schools identify at-risk students early through meticulous attendance tracking, enabling timely intervention and support to keep students engaged and improve their academic success.

What is student absenteeism?

Absenteeism is the missing of class by students without a justified reason. Commonly, another term, chronic absenteeism, is also used when discussing student absenteeism and this refers to a situation in which a student misses 10% or more of the academic year. 

Why is student absenteeism a problem?

Missing school on rare occasions due to being sick, for example, is unlikely to negatively affect a student. However, common absences can have significant negative effects on students. Missing school often can reduce academic performance, affect social life and strain mental health problems. In addition, the consequences of missing school are not only seen when students are attending school but they carry into adulthood. This is particularly true as higher absenteeism is linked to higher chances of dropping out from school as research from the National Center for Educational Statistics indicates. Most notably, the problem only seems to be getting worse with a White House Report from September 2023 indicating that the number of students deemed to be chronically absent has almost doubled in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, from 15 percent in 2018-2019 school year to 30 percent in 2021-2022. As well, the differences in chronic absenteeism across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines also appeared to increase. This serves to highlight the significant problem that chronic absenteeism presents in today’s world. 

Common causes of student absenteeism and possible solutions

In 2019 the US Department of Education published a data story to capture chronic absenteeism in the US. It did this using data from the 2015-2016 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) and different academic articles. The data story illustrates the differences in student absenteeism across ethnic groups, grade levels and geographical regions as well as covering some of the possible causes and consequences of this absenteeism. From this, I have gathered some key questions that may help to identify the cause behind students missing school, while also offering solutions to them. 

Are the students struggling academically?

While one may expect that poor attendance leads to poor academic performance, the opposite is also the case. As we previously discussed in an article with Dag Flachet, a professor at the Geneva Business School in Barcelona, one of the reasons students may choose to skip class is because they find the content they are learning too difficult. When that is the case, students can quickly become unmotivated and be more inclined to miss or skip school. This is especially the case if students are comparing themselves to good-performing students, making them feel incompetent. As well, academic difficulties can lead to students feeling embarrassed, further fueling their desire to miss school. An article published by the John Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools gave an example of this where some students with reading difficulties chose to miss school because they were afraid to be asked to read out loud. At the same time, missing class can lead to even worse performance, creating a vicious cycle, highlighting the importance of addressing absenteeism due to academic difficulties.

academic dfficulties

What can you do to reduce absenteeism due to academic difficulties?

It is imperative to provide adequate levels of support for those students that are struggling academically. Offering accommodations for special education for students that may have learning difficulties, tutoring services or additional online resources can all help students to catch-up with their peers and improve their motivation to attend. It is important to be empathetic with the students, not recriminating or punishing them for their struggles but rather working on encouraging them and improving their self-esteem which is important for their performance. Moreover, another idea is to separate the class based on their performance, grouping students that may be struggling and teaching them at a more reduced pace which may be easier for them to understand. 

Another point to consider, when possible, is that if several or a majority of students appear to present difficulties with the academic content then it might be necessary to adjust the course difficulty. This can be done by removing unnecessary complicated content from the curriculum, breaking down complex concepts into small digestible chunks or asking a lot of small simple questions when teaching that help to guide students in the right direction. Nevertheless, it is important to not make the class too easy as then students may lose interest as they don’t find the course challenging enough. 

Do the students feel safe? 

One of the biggest causes for student absenteeism is students feeling unsafe when going to school for example due to bullying or harassment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2019 about 22% of students aged 12-18 reported being bullied at school during the school year. This study also highlighted differences in bullying prevalence across the sexes, ethnicity and grade level. In general bullying was more prevalent for females, students belonging to two or more ethnicities and younger students. The higher prevalence of bullying in younger years presents a problem as in earlier years students learn content and skills that also serve them to perform better in later years. By making students feel unsafe, bullying presents significant contributions to absenteeism. 

How to reduce absenteeism due to unsafe feelings?

causes of student absenteeism

To enhance the sense of safety at school and thus reduce absenteeism, schools can adopt a multifaceted approach. Implementing comprehensive anti-bullying programs, increasing adult supervision in areas where bullying is prevalent, and incorporating Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) into the curriculum are effective strategies. Additionally, schools can establish peer mediation and support groups to foster a supportive and empathetic student community. Promoting a positive school climate where diversity is celebrated and every student feels valued is crucial. Moreover, providing professional development for teachers and staff to recognize and intervene in bullying effectively can further ensure a safe and inclusive learning environment. Finally, implementing restorative justice practices can change the school culture around bullying. This approach focuses on repairing harm and rebuilding relationships rather than punishment, encouraging a community-based response to bullying incidents. Collectively, these efforts can significantly decrease incidents of bullying and, as a result, reduce student absenteeism. 

Are the students unwell mentally or physically?

Another of the causes of student absenteeism is mental or physical health. For example, physical health conditions like asthma and dental issues are major contributors to absenteeism. It’s reported that asthma alone accounts for approximately 14 million missed school days annually in the U.S., while poor dental health results in nearly two million missed days​​. Similarly, mental health issues such as fear, depression, and anxiety can severely impact a student’s comfort and ability to attend school regularly. Students facing such mental health challenges might avoid school out of fear or anxiety, exacerbating absenteeism rates​​. This absenteeism not only affects immediate academic performance but also sets a pattern that can continue into adulthood, influencing long-term health, employment, and financial outcomes.

sick student

How to reduce absenteeism due to mental or physical health issues?

Reducing absenteeism due to mental or physical health issues involves implementing comprehensive school health programs that address these concerns holistically. For physical health, schools can integrate regular health screenings and on-site access to health services, including mental health counseling and dental care. This approach has proven effective; for instance, school-based health centers help manage conditions like asthma, which significantly reduces related absenteeism​​. Additionally, again, incorporating social-emotional learning (SEL) into the curriculum can improve students’ management of stress and anxiety, addressing mental health barriers to attendance​​. Establishing a supportive and inclusive school environment can also diminish the stigma associated with mental health issues, encouraging students to seek help. Furthermore, educational outreach to parents about the importance of regular attendance and the connections between health and learning can empower families to prioritize both health care and education.

What are the student’s family circumstances?

Family circumstances play a significant role in influencing student absenteeism, as research has shown. Various dynamics within the family environment, such as the level of conflict, cohesion, and the general structure of family life, directly impact a student’s attendance at school. For instance, families with high levels of conflict or low cohesion might create a stressful or unstable home environment, which can make regular school attendance challenging for students. Conversely, families that exhibit supportive and stable relationships typically foster conditions that are conducive to consistent school attendance. Moreover, specific family types, such as enmeshed or detached families, can either overly restrict or fail to provide enough guidance and support, leading to school avoidance or irregular attendance behaviors among students. Therefore, understanding and addressing these family circumstances in interventions and school policies is crucial for reducing absenteeism and supporting students’ educational success.

causes for student absenteeism for family circumstances

How to reduce absenteeism due to family circumstances?

Reducing absenteeism due to family circumstances involves a collaborative approach that extends beyond the educational setting into the family environment. Schools can implement programs that engage parents and guardians more deeply in the educational process, such as family therapy sessions, parent education programs, and regular parent-teacher meetings that foster open communication and mutual support. By educating parents about the importance of regular attendance and how they can support their child’s education at home, schools can help strengthen the family’s role in consistent school engagement. Additionally, providing community support resources, such as access to counseling for family conflicts or financial assistance programs, can alleviate some of the pressures that contribute to absenteeism. Schools might also consider flexible scheduling or remote learning options for students facing significant family challenges, ensuring that these students can continue their education even under difficult circumstances. These measures, when combined with a supportive school environment that understands and addresses the specific needs of each family, can significantly reduce barriers to attendance and improve student outcomes.

Are there economic difficulties?

A systematic review of the academic literature behind the relationship between economic difficulties and school absenteeism has shown that both are deeply interconnected. Students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds often face numerous barriers that can lead to increased absenteeism. For example, economic difficulties can lead to unstable housing situations, lack of transportation, and insufficient health care, all of which contribute directly to students missing school. Moreover, financial constraints may force students to work or care for family members instead of attending school, further exacerbating absenteeism rates. This trend underscores the challenges that low-income families face in maintaining consistent school attendance for their children, impacting their educational outcomes and future opportunities.

transportation causes for student absenteeism

How to reduce student absenteeism due to economics difficulties?

To address absenteeism rooted in economic difficulties, schools can implement several targeted interventions that provide direct support to affected students and their families. Initiatives like providing free or reduced-cost meals can ensure that students do not miss school due to hunger or insufficient nutrition. Implementing school bus routes or subsidized public transit passes can help overcome transportation barriers. Schools might also consider partnerships with local healthcare providers to offer on-site medical services, reducing absenteeism due to unaddressed health issues. Additionally, creating flexible school schedules or online learning options could support students who may need to work or have other familial obligations during traditional school hours. These solutions aim to mitigate the impact of economic hardship on student attendance, thereby enhancing their ability to engage fully in their education.

What is the first step to fight student absenteeism?

The different solutions discussed in this article can help to neutralize the causes for student absenteeism. Nevertheless, the first step in fighting absenteeism is identifying it. This requires a reliable way of tracking attendance to identify students at risk early. For this, you have Attendance Radar. Attendance Radar is a mobile app that facilitates meticulous tracking of student attendance using Bluetooth, offering educators and administrators data to identify attendance patterns and students at risk of chronic absenteeism. By leveraging this technology, schools can proactively address attendance issues, tailor interventions to individual needs, and ultimately, enhance student engagement and academic success. Attendance Radar represents a forward-thinking approach to tackling absenteeism, underscoring the importance of leveraging technology in educational strategies.


In conclusion, tackling the causes of student absenteeism requires a nuanced understanding of the diverse and complex factors that influence why students miss school. From economic hardships and family dynamics to health issues and the school environment, each aspect plays a critical role in shaping attendance patterns. By utilizing tools like Attendance Radar for early detection and intervention, along with implementing supportive and inclusive policies, educators can address these causes effectively. The journey to improving school attendance is multifaceted, but with the right strategies and resources, it is possible to ensure that every student has the opportunity to attend school consistently and achieve their full potential.

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