International comparisons provide reference points for researchers and policy analysts to understand trends and patterns in national education data and are important as U.S. students compete in an increasingly global economy.
Education at a Glance, an annual publication produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), provides data on the structure, finances, and progress of education systems in 36 OECD countries, including the United States, as well as a number of OECD partner countries. The report also includes state-level information on key benchmarks to inform state and local policies on global competitiveness.
The recently released 2019 edition of the report shows that the United States is above the international average on some measures, such as participation in and funding of higher education, but lags behind in others, such as participation in early childhood education programs.
Distribution of 25- to 34-Year-Olds With a College Education, by Level of Education
The percentage of U.S. 25- to 34-year-olds with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree increased by 8 percentage points between 2008 and 2018, reaching 49 percent, compared with the OECD average of 44 percent. However, the attainment rates varied widely across the United States in 2017, from 32 percent for those living in Louisiana and West Virginia to 58 percent for those living in Massachusetts and 73 percent for those living in the District of Columbia.
The percentage of U.S. students completing a bachelor’s degree within 4 years was 38 percent in 2018, about the same as the average among OECD countries with available data (39 percent); however, after an additional 2 years, the U.S. graduation rate (69 percent) was slightly above the OECD average of 67 percent (achieved after 3 years). While a higher percentage of U.S. young adults had completed a bachelor’s degree compared with young adults in other OECD countries, a lower percentage had completed a master’s or doctoral degree. Eleven percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the United States had completed a master’s or doctoral degree, compared with an average of 15 percent across OECD countries.
Higher Education Spending
U.S. spending on higher education is also relatively high compared with the OECD average, in both absolute and relative terms. The United States spent $30,165 per higher education student in 2017, the second-highest amount after Luxembourg and nearly double the OECD average ($15,556). Also, U.S. spending on higher education as a percentage of GDP (2.5 percent) was substantially higher than the OECD average (1.5 percent). These total expenditures include amounts received from governments, students, and all other sources.
Early Childhood Education
Contrasting with enrollment patterns at the higher education level, the level of participation in early childhood education programs in the United States is below the OECD average and falling further behind. Between 2005 and 2017, average enrollment rates for 3- to 5-year-olds across OECD countries increased from 76 to 86 percent. In contrast, the rate in the United States remained stable at 66 percent during this time period. Among U.S. states, the 2017 enrollment rates for 3- to 5-year-olds ranged from less than 50 percent in Idaho, North Dakota, and Wyoming to more than 70 percent in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey.
Going deeper into the data, on average, 88 percent of 4-year-olds in OECD countries were enrolled in education programs in 2017, compared with 66 percent in the United States. The enrollment rate for 3-year-olds in the United States was 42 percent, compared with the OECD average of 77 percent.
Gender Gaps in Employment
Education at a Glance also looks at employment and other outcomes from education. The report found that the 2017 gender gap in employment rates was lower for those who had completed higher levels of education. This pattern holds in the United States, where the gender gap in the employment rate was particularly high among 25- to 34-year-olds who had not completed high school. For this age group, the employment rate was 73 percent for men and 41 percent for women, a difference of 32 percentage points, compared with the average difference of 28 percentage points across OECD countries. The gender gap in the employment rate was 14 percentage points among U.S. adults with only a high school education and 7 percentage points among those who had completed college.
In 2017, the gender differences in average earnings were also wider in the United States than in the OECD averages. These gender gaps in earnings between male and female full-time workers existed across all levels of education. In the United States, college-educated 25- to 64-year-old women earned 71 percent of what their male peers earned. This gender gap was wider than for all other OECD countries except for Chile, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Poland, and the Slovak Republic.
This is just a sample of the information that can be found in Education at a Glance 2019. You can also find information on the working conditions of teachers, including time spent in the classroom and salary data; student/teacher ratios; college tuitions and loans; and education finance and per student expenditures. Education at a Glance also contains data on the international United Nations Sustainable Development Goals related to education.
Browse the full report to see how the United States compares with other countries on these important education-related topics.
Percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college education, by level of education: 2018
1 Year of reference differs from 2018 (see NOTE).
NOTE: Reporting of some countries is not consistent with international categories. Please refer to Education at a Glance Database, http://stats.oecd.org. for details. Comparisons follow International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011 education levels: “Associate’s or similar degrees” refers to ISCED 2011 level 5, “Bachelor’s or equivalent” refers to level 6, “Master’s or equivalent” refers to level 7, and “Doctoral or equivalent” refers to level 8. Countries are ranked in descending order of the total percentage of tertiary-educated 25- to 34-year-olds. See Annex 3 for additional notes (https://doi.org/10.1787/f8d7880d-en).
SOURCE: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2019), Education at a Glance Database, http://stats.oecd.org.
By Thomas Snyder