Indicator A6. How are social outcomes related to education?

Civic engagement is part of democratic societies and education is a determinant of participation in civic activities (Hauser, 2000[6]). It is widely accepted that there is a positive relationship between educational attainment and civic engagement (Campbell, 2006[2]). Education can also influence citizens' perceptions of democracy in their countries. It shapes their democratic values and their views on democratic processes. The relationship between educational attainment and civic engagement may be influenced by the fact that in some countries higher educational attainment may be associated with high socio-economic status, and therefore civic engagement is related to socio-economic status rather than educational attainment (Campbell, 2006[2]). Increasing levels of education do not seem to affect individuals’ perceptions and attitudes towards democracy but they do seem to influence civic engagement. This relationship appears to be strongly influenced by individuals’ socio-economic status, particularly by income (Alemán and Kim, 2015[7]).

Individuals aged 25-64 were asked in the ESS Round 10 to rate a series of statements from 0-10 according to the importance they gave to the statement, where 0 means not important at all and 10 means that what the statement is saying is essential to them. To assess individuals’ perception of democracy, several aspects were considered, such as the importance of referendums as a form of direct democracy, the fact that governing parties are punished in elections when they have done a bad job, the government’s role in reducing differences in income levels, that the will of the people cannot be stopped and that the media is free to criticise the government.

There are no major differences in perceptions about democracy depending on educational attainment. On average, people aged 25-64 across the OECD countries and accession countries participating in ESS Round 10 rated these statements similarly regardless of their attainment levels. In particular, respondents stated it was highly important that governing parties are punished if they have done a bad job (an average score of around 8 out of 10) (Table A6.1, online columns). Similarly, the importance of citizens having the final say on major political issues by voting directly in referendums also scored around 8, regardless of respondents’ attainment (Figure A6.1) Croatia, Poland, Slovenia and Switzerland have the highest rating for this statement, with individuals with all levels of attainment rating it almost 9. This is not surprising given the strong element of direct democracy in Switzerland. In some other countries, the score given to this aspect of democracy is lower; for instance in the Netherlands it scores around 6 for those with tertiary qualifications (Table A6.1). Support for referendums declined between 2012 and 2017 in the Netherlands, where the government has challenged this form of direct democracy (Rojon and Rijken, 2021[8]).

On average across OECD and accession countries participating in the ESS Round 10, individuals at all attainment levels rated redistribution as important. In most countries the score is lower among tertiary-educated individuals (around 8.2) than for those with below upper secondary attainment (around 8.9). This may be linked to individuals’ socio-economic status and income, as individuals with higher attainment have higher earnings (see Indicator A4) (Table A6.1, online columns).

Another important aspect of democracy is freedom of speech, evidenced by a free media (McNair, 2012[9]). As with previous aspects of democracy, 25-64 year-olds in OECD countries and accession countries appear to place high importance on this aspect of democracy regardless of their education attainment, with a sightlier higher rate given by those with tertiary qualifications (Table A6.1, online columns). Individuals living in democratic societies are free to hold different political positions to those of their government and political parties and naturally tend to support the expression of different opinions in the political arena.

Civic engagement covers the various ways in which citizens participate in the life of their own community and improve the conditions of other members of the community. It can include political involvement and community service (Adler and Goggin, 2005[10]). Civic engagement is important for the well-being of societies and trust between individuals in their own community. Along with social cohesion, civic engagement is part of a society’s social capital (Prewitt, Mackie and Habermann, 2014[11]). To measure civic engagement, 25-64 year-olds were asked in the ESS Round 10 if they participated in any of the following four activities in the last 12 months: taking part in a public demonstration, boycotting certain products, posting or sharing anything about politics on line and volunteering for a not-for-profit or charitable organisation. However, when analysing the results it should be noted that data are from 2021 reporting activities in the previous 12 months, so the results for attending a public demonstration and volunteering for a not-for-profit or charitable organisation may be biased compared to the other two behaviours (boycotting certain products and posting or sharing anything about politics on line) due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

There is a positive relation between educational attainment and the likelihood of participating in a public demonstration, on average across OECD and accession countries taking part in ESS Round 10 (Figure A6.2). In Canada, however, adults with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary attainment are the least likely to participate in a public demonstration. This contrasts with the lack of a relationship between educational attainment and perceptions of democracy discussed above. In particular, individuals with lower attainment place similar importance on the will of the people as those with higher attainment but are less likely to have participated in a public demonstration when they feel that their views or political situation are being challenged (Table A6.1, online columns, and Table A6.2).

The relationship between educational attainment and political participation is also found by other studies (Mayer, 2011[12]), but it may not necessarily be a causal relationship. Younger people are more likely to hold a tertiary qualification and are also more likely to participate in public demonstrations (Melo and Stockemer, 2014[13]; Schofer and Meyer, 2005[14]). The higher rates of participation in demonstrations among the more educated might therefore primarily be an age effect. Looking at individual countries, Israel and Spain displayed high rates of participation in public demonstrations in 2020 regardless of educational attainment, with 20% of surveyed individuals reporting they had taken part in Israel and 21% in Spain (Table A6.2, online columns). In Spain, there was an increase in public demonstrations in 2020. Many of these protests were led by working classes and individuals in precarious economic situations and some by health professionals (Khenkin, 2020[15]) so they covered individuals with all levels of educational attainment. In Israel, 2020 also saw widespread public demonstrations (Hitman, 2021[16]).

As with participation in demonstrations, there seems to be a positive relation between boycotting products and educational attainment. On average across the OECD and accession countries participating in the ESS Round 10, 23% of 25-64 year-olds report having boycotted certain products as a result of civic engagement in 2020. This association supported by the literature, establishes a direct relation between high educational attainment and consuming for political reasons (Yates, 2011[17]). Only 14% of individuals whose highest level of educational attainment is below upper secondary education claim to have boycotted certain products compared to 20% of those whose highest level of attainment is upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary and 29% of individuals who have tertiary qualifications. Austria (45%), Finland (44%) Germany (50%) and Sweden (51%) are the countries where the highest share of individuals who have boycotted certain products, regardless of educational attainment, while Bulgaria (6%), Hungary (2%) and Portugal (6%) have the lowest (Figure A6.2 and Table A6.2).This supports the finding in the literature that people in Central and Northern European countries are more likely to boycott certain products (Yates, 2011[17]).

Online engagement also seems related to attainment levels. On average across the OECD countries and accession countries participating in the ESS Round 10, 20% of individuals aged 25-64 report having posted or shared anything about politics on line in 2020, for example, on blogs, via email or on social media such as Facebook or Twitter. As with other measures of civic engagement, there is a positive relation between posting about politics on line and educational attainment (Figure A6.2). Among young adults in tertiary education, digital media literacy fosters online political participation (Kahne, Lee and Feezell, 2012[18]; Kahne and Bowyer, 2019[19]). A more in-depth understanding of digital media therefore promotes political participation. Individuals with tertiary attainment are more likely to know more about digital media since they are more likely to have studied it (Kahne, Lee and Feezell, 2012[18]) and thus be more politically active on it.

As with all the other activities related to civic engagement discussed above, the higher the educational attainment of individuals, the greater the level of participation in volunteering (Figure A6.2). Previous research has found that people in Nordic countries and people with higher educational attainments tend to be more active in charity work (McCloughan et al., 2011[20]) On average among the OECD countries and accession countries participating in the ESS Round 10, 20% of 25-64 year-old individuals reported that they volunteered for a not-for-profit or charitable organisation in 2020. The highest participation rates are in Canada (40% in the national survey), Iceland (35%) and Norway (39%), The lowest rates are in Bulgaria (5%), the Czech Republic (6%) and Hungary (3%) (Table A6.2, online columns).

As these examples have shown, there is a positive relation between individuals’ educational attainment and civic engagement. Individuals with tertiary education showed the highest rates of civic engagement and those with below upper secondary attainment the lowest rates. For individuals with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary attainment, there is little difference on average between individuals who studied in general or vocational programmes, around 2 percentage points.

In the recent years, the world has seen an increase in threats to democracy. One of these threats is the spread of conspiracy theories. The COVID-19 pandemic saw an increase and spread of a number of conspiracy theories worldwide (De Coninck et al., 2021[21]). These conspiracy theories were not only linked to the pandemic, but affected other topics discussed in public life. Box A6.1 offers an analysis of these conspiracy theories and how educational attainment relates to individuals’ belief in them.

Privacy and Internet security measures are essential for protecting personal information and browsing the Internet safely. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most people in OECD countries conducted their education and work on line. Online attacks increased (Pranggono and Arabo, 2021[33]) and personal security on the Internet became an important issue to consider on a daily basis. Information from the EU-ICT survey is used to assess individuals’ personal security and willingness to protect their personal data. The survey found that as educational attainment increases, so do the measures individuals take to protect their personal data on line.

The survey asked individuals aged 16-74 about their use of software that limits the ability of others to track their activities on the Internet. Use of this type of software is a good indicator of the extent to which individuals perceive that they need protection on the Internet and are aware of the fact that there are risks when browsing the Internet.

On average across the OECD and accession countries taking part in the EU-ICT survey in 2021, 21% of 16-74 year-olds claim to have used software that limits the ability to track their activities on the Internet in the three months prior to completing the survey. There is a positive relationship between educational attainment and the share of individuals taking this precaution. On average, 16% of individuals with below upper secondary attainment report having used such software, rising to 20% of those upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary attainment and 27% of those with tertiary attainment. For tertiary-educated adults, across OECD countries taking part in the EU-ICT survey, Belgium (55%) and Norway (45%) had the highest share of tertiary-educated individuals using this type of software while Bulgaria (16%), Latvia (16%) and the Republic of Türkiye (13%), had the lowest shares. In Canada, 66% of individuals report using software that limits the ability to track their activities on the Internet regardless of their educational attainment according to the Canadian Internet Use Survey (CIUS) 2020. This is well above the OECD average. As with other countries, there is a positive relation between using software to limit the ability to track their activities on the Internet and educational attainment (Figure A6.4).

There are other aspects to consider when analysing privacy and the measures individuals take to protect personal data. More individuals report reading privacy policy statements than using software that limits the ability to track activities on the Internet. On average across OECD and accession countries taking part in the EU-ICT survey, 36% of individuals claim to read privacy policy statements before providing personal data regardless of educational attainment. This precaution is followed by 27% of those with below upper secondary attainment, 36% of those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary attainment and 44% of those with tertiary attainment. A similar pattern can be found with limiting access to a profile or content on social networking sites or shared online storage. Individuals with tertiary attainment are more likely to report taking this precaution than those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary attainment, who in turn are more likely to do so than individuals with below upper secondary attainment (Table A6.3, online columns).

Age group: Adults refer to 25-64 year-olds.

Educational attainment refers to the highest level of education successfully completed by an individual.

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

Perception of democracy: the European Social Survey defines perception of democracy as citizens’ attitudes to democracy and meaning that people attach to the word in different countries. It conveys the importance of free and fair elections, equality before the law, the delivery of social outcomes and opportunities for citizen participation. The meaning covers four dimensions of democracy: the electoral dimension, the liberal dimension, the social dimension and the direct democracy dimension. This definition of democracy is based on Morlino (2009[34]) and Kisis (2015[35]).

Civic engagement is any individual or group activity addressing issues of public concern.

Table A6.4, Table A6.5, Table A6.6, Table A6.7 and Table A6.8, available on line, combine data from different sources which could compromise cross-country comparability in certain cases. Refer to table notes and (OECD, 2023[5]) Education at a Glance 2023 Sources, Methodologies and Technical Notes, (https://doi.org/10.1787/d7f76adc-en) for country-specific information.

For more information see Definitions, Methodology and Source sections and Education at a Glance 2023 Sources, Methodologies and Technical Notes (OECD, 2023[5]).

Data on civic engagement and governance, both for the perception of democracy and behaviour indicating civic engagement for all countries assessed are taken from the European Social Survey, Round 10 survey. These data have been compiled by the OECD Labour Market, Economic and Social Outcomes of Learning (LSO) Network. Data for Canada are drawn from the General Social Survey-Social Identity (GSS SI), Cycle 35, 2020 and the General Social Survey-Giving Volunteering and Participating (GSS SI), Cycle 33, 2018 for Tables A6.2 and A6.3.

Data on personal safety and individuals’ measures to protect their personal data online are drawn from the EU-ICT survey, conducted by Eurostat. For Tables A6.3, A6.6 and A6.7, the Canadian Internet Use Survey (CIUS) 2020 was used.

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