Around the world, more than 80% of tertiary-educated people are employed compared with 70% of those with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education and less than 60% of people with below upper secondary education.
According to the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2014 report, the economies of OECD countries depend on a sufficient supply of high-skilled workers and the people with high qualifications have the highest employment rates.
“At the same time, people with the lowest educational qualifications are at greater risk of being unemployed. Given the technological advances that have been transforming the needs of the global labour market, people with higher or specific skills are in strong demand,” says the report.
It notes that in Estonia, Flanders, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, 90% or more of high-skilled people have jobs. In Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Poland, the Russian Federation, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia, employment rates among tertiary-educated adults are at least 30 percentage points higher than the rates among adults with only lower levels of secondary education.
Over the past 15 years, employment rates across OECD countries have been consistently higher for people with a tertiary education than for those without, the report says. Conversely, unemployment rates among lower-educated men and women have been higher than among those who have a tertiary education.
“Overall, younger adults struggle the most, and unemployment rates are highest among those who have only below upper secondary education. In 2012, about 20% of young adults in OECD countries were unemployed, the highest rate registered in more than a decade,” the report says and the position is likely to be even worse today.
Employment by gender
Across all OECD countries and education levels, gender differences in employment persist. Only 65% of women are employed compared with 80% of men.
The gender gap in employment rates is the largest among those adults with the least education: around 20 percentage points between men and women with lower secondary education (68% for men and 48% for women); around 15 percentage points among men and women with an upper secondary education (80% for men and 64% for women) and around 10 percentage points between men and women with a tertiary education.
The report says that although the gap between men’s and women’s employment rates narrows as educational attainment increases, the employment rate among tertiary-educated women is still considerably lower than that of men. This is despite the fact that in 2012, a slightly higher proportion of women (34%) than men (31%) had a tertiary education.
The difference in employment rates between men and women with a tertiary qualification or an advanced research degree is particularly large in the Czech Republic, Japan, Korea, Mexico and Turkey, where it exceeds 15 percentage points. In Iceland, Norway, Portugal and Sweden, the difference in employment rates between the sexes is less than three percentage points.
But some countries reported significant changes. In Greece, Hungary, Ireland and Spain unemployment rates for workers with low educational attainment increased considerably – by more than 10 percentage points – during this period. On the other hand, between 2010 and 2012, unemployment rates dropped significantly in Canada, Estonia, Germany, Turkey and the US.