Indicator A1. To what level have adults studied?

The attainment of upper secondary education has become a minimum requirement for navigating the modern economy and society. Young people today who leave school before completing upper secondary education not only face difficulties in the labour market, but also tend to have lower social connectedness than their higher-educated peers (OECD, 2019[1]). In most OECD and partner countries, the majority of younger adults (25-34 year-olds) have attained at least upper secondary education (Figure A1.1). On average across OECD countries, 31% of older adults (55-64 year-olds) did not attain an upper secondary qualification, but this share falls to 15% among younger adults (25-34 year-olds). In all OECD member and partner countries except Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, 25-34 year-olds are more likely to have completed at least an upper secondary education than 55-64 year-olds (Table A1.3).

On average across OECD countries, the share of younger adults with below upper secondary education as their highest level of education has decreased from 20% in 2009 to 15% in 2019. The decrease has been more remarkable in countries which initially had a high share of younger adults lacking upper secondary education. For example, in Costa Rica, Mexico, Portugal and Turkey, more than 50% of 25-34 year-olds had not attained upper secondary education in 2009 and, although they are still lagging behind the OECD average, this share has dropped by at least 10 percentage points over the last decade. In Spain, the share of 25-34 year-olds without upper secondary education was also high in 2009 but it only fell by 5 percentage points between 2009 and 2019, and it remains at 30%. Norway is the only country with comparable data for 2009 and 2019 where the proportion of younger adults with below upper secondary education increased over the last decade (Table A1.2 and Figure A1.2).

In most OECD and partner countries, young men are more likely than young women to lack an upper secondary qualification, with an OECD average of 17% for young men and 14% for young women The gender gap is 10 percentage points or higher in Iceland, Portugal and Spain. Indonesia and Turkey are the exceptions where the share of young women with only below upper secondary education is at least 3 percentage points higher than the share of young men with the same educational attainment. In addition, in about one-third of OECD and partner countries with comparable data for 2009 and 2019 – Costa Rica, Iceland, Mexico, Norway and South Africa – the gender gap has increased over the last decade (Table A1.2).

Among OECD countries, the share of 25-34 year-olds with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education as their highest attainment ranges from 21% in Ireland to 60% in the Czech Republic (Figure A1.1). On average across the OECD, this share has fallen from 44% in 2009 to 40% in 2019, as younger adults are more likely to pursue tertiary education than they were a decade ago (Table A1.2). However, upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education still represents the most commonly attained level of education among 25-34 year-olds in 16 OECD countries: Austria, Chile, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia (Table A1.3).

Upper secondary education is often divided into two programmes: general programmes aim to prepare students for tertiary education, while vocational ones are designed to lead directly to the labour market entry. In most countries, post-secondary non-tertiary education is mainly vocationally oriented (Table A1.3).

On average across OECD countries, more adults with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary qualifications as their highest attainment completed vocational programmes than general programmes (27% of all adults compared to 16%). However, in some countries, a higher share of adults with this attainment level have completed a general programme. The difference is more than 10 percentage points in Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Greece, Israel, Mexico, Portugal, and to a lower extent (less than 5 percentage points) in the Czech Republic, Spain and Turkey (Table A1.1).

In most countries, the share of adults with vocational qualifications has decreased over the generations. On average across OECD countries, among adults with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education as their highest attainment, 72% of 55-64 year-olds (older adults), 66% of 35-44 year-olds, and 59% of 25-34 year-olds (younger adults) held a vocational qualification. In Luxembourg, Iceland and Mexico, the difference between older and younger adults exceeds 30 percentage points (Figure A1.3). Technological innovations and economic integration have pushed many industries to upgrade their required skills or qualifications. Young adults may have more interest than their older peers in pursuing general upper secondary education and continuing their studies at tertiary level.

However, not all countries have followed the same trend. In Greece, Portugal and Spain, the share of vocational qualifications has increased by more than 10 percentage points between the two extreme age groups, though these countries still lag behind the OECD average. In France, Italy, the Netherlands and the Slovak Republic, the share has remained mainly stable across generations and higher than the OECD average (Figure A1.3).

In most OECD and partner countries, women are under-represented among adults who attained vocational upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education. In Canada, Iceland and Lithuania, women make up less than 35% of the 25-34 year-olds with this level of attainment. Chile, Costa Rica, Spain and Mexico are the only countries where women are more likely than men to attain vocational upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education (Figure A1.4).

The under-representation of women in vocational upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education level is related to fields of study and their minimum entry level. Women generally dominate in the field of health and welfare, reflecting their supposed aptitutde for caring poisitions. On average across OECD countries, women make up more than 80% of vocatioanl upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary graduates with a specialisation in health and welfare (OECD, 2019[1]). In addition, this field of study often requires degrees beyond upper secondary level. Across OECD conuntries, only 13% of upper secondary vocational graduates held a qualification in health and welfare (see Indicator B7). However, adults who attained upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education are predominated by those who only attained upper secondary education. On average across the OECD, 36% of adults attained upper secondary education, while only 6% attained post-secondary non-tertiary education (Table A1.1).

In most OECD and partner countries, the gender gap in vocational upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education has widened over the generations. On average across OECD countries, women make up 46% of 55-64 year-olds with vocational qualifications, while the share falls to 42% among 25-34 year-olds. In Australia, Chile, Costa Rica, Iceland, Luxembourg, Turkey and the United Kingdom younger women are more likely to have a vocational qualification than older women. Moreover, in Mexico and Spain, younger men and women are more equally attained vocational upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education than the older generation, though the gender gap is always in favour of women. (Figure A1.4).

In all OECD and partner countries, except South Africa, tertiary attainment is higher among younger adults than older adults. On average across OECD countries, 45% of 25-34 year-olds have a tertiary education, compared to 28% of 55-64 year-olds. In more than half of OECD countries, tertiary education is the most common attainment level reached by all 25-34 year-olds (Table A1.3). However, the share of tertiary-educated younger adults varies substantially across OECD countries, ranging from 24% in Mexico to 70% in Ireland and Korea (Figure A1.1).

The share of 25-34 year-olds with a tertiary degree has also increased between 2009 and 2019 in all OECD and partner countries. This rising share implies a falling share of younger adults without one. In most countries, there has been a reduction in the shares of younger adults with either below upper secondary or upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education as their highest attainment. However, in Brazil, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Mexico, Portugal and South Africa, the share of younger adults with tertiary education has increased alongside a rise in the share of those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education as their highest attainment (Figure A1.2). In these countries, educational expansion started relatively late, and the share of younger adults lacking upper secondary education is still large compared to other countries (Figure A1.1).

From the gender perspective, younger women are more likely than younger men to achieve tertiary education in all OECD countries. On average in the OECD, 51% of younger women have a tertiary degree, compared to 39% of younger men, and the average gender gap in favour of women has widened between 2009 and 2019. Among countries with comparable data between 2009 and 2019, only in Finland, Norway and the United States has the gender gap narrowed over the last decade (Table A1.2). However, the aggregate data mask important gender disparities in fields of study: in most countries, women dominate in health and welfare, but they are under-represented in the broad field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (OECD, 2019[1]).

In most OECD and partner countries, the largest share of tertiary-educated 25-34 year-olds have attained a bachelor’s or equivalent degree, though the share varies substantially across countries. In the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, the Russian Federation, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Spain, those with a master’s degree represent the largest share (Figure A1.6). For some countries, this might be related to their strong tradition of long first degree programmes that lead directly to a master’s degree (OECD, 2019[1]). While for the Russian Federation, it is related to the fact that implementation of programmes leading to a university bachelor’s degree is relatively recent.

On average across OECD countries, 8% of 25-34 year-olds have a short-cycle tertiary degree as their highest attainment, but the share varies widely across countries. In the Czech Republic, Germany and Italy, less than 1% of younger adults have this level of educational attainment while the share exceeds 20% in Canada and Korea. In Austria,, the most common attainment among tertiary-educated 25-34 year-olds is a short-cycle degree. (Figure A1.6).

For most countries where short-cycle tertiary education exists, vocational programmes are more common than general ones. However, in some countries, such as Canada, Norway and the United States, short-cycle tertiary degrees combine general and vocational programmes. Argentina and Turkey only have general short-cycle tertiary programmes (Table A1.3).

Short-cycle tertiary education could have strong influence on tertiary attainment across countries. For example, 37% of younger adults have a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral or equivalent degree in both Portugal and in Sweden. However, as younger adults in Portugal do not tend to attain short-cycle tertiary degrees, Portugal has much smaller share of tertiary-educated younger adults than Sweden does (Figure A1.6).

Age groups: Adults refer to 25-64 year-olds; younger adults refer to 25-34 year-olds; and older adults refer to 55-64 year-olds.

Completion of intermediate programmes for educational attainment (ISCED 2011) corresponds to a recognised qualification from an ISCED 2011 level programme that is not considered sufficient for ISCED 2011 level completion and is classified at a lower ISCED 2011 level. In addition, this recognised qualification does not give direct access to an upper ISCED 2011 level programme.

Educational attainment refers to the highest level of education reached by a person.

Levels of education: See the Reader’s Guide at the beginning of this publication for a presentation of all ISCED 2011 levels.

Vocational programmes: The international Standard Classification of Education (ISCED 2011) defines vocational programmes as education programmes that are designed for learners to acquire the knowledge, skills and competencies specific to a particular occupation, trade, or class of occupations or trades. Such programmes may have work-based components (e.g. apprenticeships and dual-system education programmes). Suceessful completion of such programmes leads to vocational qualifications relevant to the labour market and acknowledged as occupationally oriented by the relevant national authorities and/or the labour market.

Educational attainment profiles are based on annual data on the percentage of the adult population (25-64 year-olds) in specific age groups who have successfully completed a specified level of education.

In OECD statistics, recognised qualifications from ISCED 2011 level 3 programmes that are not of sufficient duration for ISCED 2011 level 3 completion are classified at ISCED 2011 level 2 (see the Reader’s Guide). Where countries have been able to demonstrate equivalencies in the labour-market value of attainment formally classified as the “completion of intermediate upper secondary programmes” (e.g. achieving five good GCSEs or equivalent in the United Kingdom) and “full upper secondary attainment”, attainment of these programmes is reported as ISCED 2011 level 3 completion in the tables that show three aggregate levels of educational attainment (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2012[6]).

Most OECD countries include people without formal education under the international classification ISCED 2011 level 0. Therefore, averages for the category “less than primary educational attainment” are likely to be influenced by this inclusion.

Please see the OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Statistics (OECD, 2018[7]) for more information and Annex 3 for country-specific notes (https://doi.org/10.1787/69096873-en).

Data on population and educational attainment for most countries are taken from OECD and Eurostat databases, which are compiled from National Labour Force Surveys by the OECD Labour Market, Economic and Social Outcomes of Learning (LSO) Network. Data on educational attainment for Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are taken from the International Labour Organization (ILO) database, and data for China are from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) database.

Data on subnational regions for selected indicators are available in the OECD Regional Statistics Database (OECD, 2020[8]).

References

[2] Musset, P. (2019), “Improving work-based learning in schools”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 233, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/918caba5-en.

[8] OECD (2020), Regional Statistics Database - Educational attainment, by age group, https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?datasetcode=REGION_EDUCAT.

[1] OECD (2019), Education at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/f8d7880d-en.

[4] OECD (2019), OECD Employment Outlook 2019: The Future of Work, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9ee00155-en.

[7] OECD (2018), OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Statistics 2018: Concepts, Standards, Definitions and Classifications, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264304444-en.

[3] OECD (2017), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2017-en.

[5] OECD (2012), Grade Expectations: How Marks and Education Policies Shape Students’ Ambitions, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264187528-en.

[6] UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2012), International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011, UNESCO-UIS, Montreal, http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/international-standard-classification-of-education-isced-2011-en.pdf.

Table A1.1 Educational attainment of 25-64 year-olds (2019)

Table A1.2 Trends in educational attainment of 25-34 year-olds, by gender (2009 and 2019)

Table A1.3 Educational attainment of 25-34 year-olds and 55-64 year-olds, by programme orientation (2019)

WEB Table A1.4 Distribution of 25-34 year-olds with vocational upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education as their highest level of attainment by type of work experience while studying (2016)

StatLink: https://doi.org/10.1787/888934161767

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