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International educational attainment

Question:
How does the educational attainment of the United States compare with other countries?

Response:

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is a group of 38 countries (as of 2021) whose purpose is to promote trade and economic growth. The OECD also collects and publishes an array of data on its member countries. This Fast Fact uses OECD data to compare educational attainment across countries using two measures: high school completion and attainment of any postsecondary degree.1, 2 It focuses on how the United States compared with other OECD countries, both in terms of its educational attainment rates as of 2021 and changes in the rates since 2010.3 In this Fast Fact, for the United States, “high school completion” refers to individuals who have been awarded a high school diploma or an equivalent credential, such as the GED.4 Also, “attainment of any postsecondary degree” refers to individuals who have been awarded an associate’s or higher degree.5

In 32 of the 34 countries6 for which the OECD reported data on high school completion rates in both 2010 and 2021, the percentage of 25- to 64-year-olds who had completed high school as of 2021 was either higher than or not measurably different from the percentage as of 2010. During this period,


Percentage of the population 25 to 64 years old who had completed high school, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2010 and 2021

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

# Rounds to zero.
1 The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) was revised in 2011. Although data for 2010 were originally calculated using the 1997 version of ISCED, the footnoted countries revised their 2010 data to align with the 2011 version of ISCED.
2 Data include some persons who completed a sufficient number of certain types of programs, any one of which individually would be classified as a program that only partially completes the high school (or upper secondary) level of education.
3 Refers to the mean of the data values for all reporting Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries as of 2021 (including those that had been invited to become members and were under review, referred to as the accession process), to which each country reporting data contributes equally.

NOTE: Of the 38 OECD countries, 36 are included in this figure. Data for New Zealand and Colombia are available only for 2021. Chile and Japan are excluded because data are not available for these countries for 2010 and 2021. Data in this figure refer to degrees classified under ISCED 2011 as completing level 3 (upper secondary education) or to comparable degrees under ISCED 1997. In the United States, “high school completion” refers to individuals who have been awarded a high school diploma or an equivalent credential, such as the GED. ISCED 2011 was used to calculate data for 2021 for all countries. Some data have been revised from previously published figures. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.


In each of the 35 countries8 for which the OECD reported data on postsecondary attainment rates in both 2010 and 2021, the percentage of 25- to 64-year-olds who had earned any postsecondary degree was higher as of 2021 than as of 2010. During this period, these percentages increased

Between 2010 and 2021, the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who had earned any postsecondary degree also increased

The percentage difference in postsecondary attainment for 25- to 34-year-olds between the United States and the OECD average as of 2021 (4 percentage points) was not measurably different from the difference as of 2010.


Percentage of the population 25 to 64 years old who had attained any postsecondary degree, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2010 and 2021

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

1 The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) was revised in 2011. Although data for 2010 were originally calculated using the 1997 version of ISCED, the footnoted countries revised their 2010 data to align with the 2011 version of ISCED.
2 Data include some postsecondary nontertiary awards (i.e., awards that are below the associate's degree level).
3 Refers to the mean of the data values for all reporting Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries as of 2021 (including those that had been invited to become members and were under review, referred to as the accession process), to which each country reporting data contributes equally.

NOTE: Of the 38 OECD countries, 37 are included in this figure. Data for New Zealand and Colombia are available only for 2021. Chile is excluded because data are not available for 2010 and 2021. Data in this figure refer to degrees classified under ISCED 2011 as tertiary (postsecondary) degrees, which correspond to all degrees at the associate’s level and above in the United States. Under ISCED 2011, tertiary degrees are classified at the following levels: level 5 (corresponding to an associate’s degree in the United States), level 6 (a bachelor’s or equivalent degree), level 7 (a master’s or equivalent degree), and level 8 (a doctoral or equivalent degree). ISCED 2011 was used to calculate data for 2021 for all countries. Some data have been revised from previously published figures. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.


SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). International Educational Attainment. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved June 22, 2023, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cac.

The employment to population ratio of 25- to 64-year-olds is the number of persons in this age group who are employed as a percentage of the total civilian population in this age group. In 2021, this ratio was 72 in the United States, while the OECD average was 76. The table below provides detail by educational attainment.

Employment-to-population ratios of 25- to 64-year-olds, by sex, highest level of educational attainment, and country: 2021
Country Total population, 25 to 64 years old
All levels of education Less than high school completion High school completion Associate’s or higher degree
OECD Average1 76.4   (0.04) 57.7   (0.12) 74.9   (0.06) 85.3   (0.05)
United States 72.5   (0.15) 52.1   (0.59) 66.7   (0.25) 80.6   (0.19)

1 Refers to the mean of the data values for all reporting Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, to which each country reporting data contributes equally.

NOTE: All data in this table were calculated using International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011. High school completion refers to completion of ISCED 2011 level 3 (upper secondary education); programs classified under ISCED 2011 as only partially completing level 3 are not included in the high school completion data except where otherwise noted. In this table, persons completing ISCED 2011 level 4 are also considered to have high school completion as their highest level of educational attainment. ISCED level 4 typically corresponds to postsecondary nondegree programs below the associate’s degree level in the United States. Associate’s or higher degrees include ISCED 2011 level 5 (corresponding to the associate’s degree in the United States), level 6 (bachelor’s or equivalent degree), level 7 (master’s or equivalent degree), and level 8 (doctoral or equivalent degree).

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. (2022, October). Table 603.90. Employment-to-population ratios of 25- to 64-year-olds, by sex, highest level of educational attainment, and country: 2021 [Data table]. In Digest of education statistics. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved October 3, 2023, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d22/tables/dt22_603.90.asp.


1 Attainment data in this Fast Fact refer to comparable levels of degrees, as classified by the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED). ISCED was revised in 2011. The previous version, ISCED 1997, was used for all years prior to 2014, unless a country revised its historical data to align with the 2011 version of ISCED. Data using the ISCED 2011 classification may not be directly comparable to data using the ISCED 1997 classification. For additional information, please see https://www.oecd.org/education/isced-2011-operational-manual-9789264228368-en.htm.
2 Attainment rates refer to the percentage of the population who had completed a certain level of education by the year of data collection, rather than the percentage who completed education in a particular year only.
3 Throughout this Fast Fact, data are reported for all current Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries as of 2021 (including those that had been invited to become members and were under review, referred to as the accession process) for which a given year’s data are available, even if they were not members of the OECD in that year.
4 In this Fast Fact, data on high school completion refer to degrees classified as ISCED 2011 level 3, which generally corresponds to high school completion in the United States, with some exceptions.
5 Under ISCED 2011, postsecondary, or tertiary, degrees are classified at the following levels: level 5 (corresponding to an associate’s degree in the United States), level 6 (a bachelor’s or equivalent degree), level 7 (a master’s or equivalent degree), and level 8 (a doctoral or equivalent degree). The structure of education differs across countries and not all countries have significant numbers of awards at each of these degree levels.
6 Colombia and New Zealand are excluded because data are not available for these countries for 2010. Chile and Japan are excluded because data are not available for these countries for 2010 and 2021.
7 Throughout this Fast Fact, the “OECD average” refers to the mean of the data values for all reporting OECD countries (including those in the accession process), to which each country reporting data contributes equally. Countries excluded from analyses in this Fast Fact may be included in the OECD average.
8 Colombia and New Zealand are excluded because data are not available for these countries for 2010. Chile is excluded because data are not available for 2010 and 2021.

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