International Comparisons of Education

International comparisons of education can help direct the development of policies and assist in building more effective and equitable education systems. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Directorate for Education and Skills contributes to these efforts by developing and analysing the quantitative, internationally comparable indicators that it publishes annually in Education at a Glance. Comparing the United States education system to that in other countries helps us recognize the similarities, the differences, where improvement is needed and incentives to invest.

Key finding in their recently released included:

  • Employment
    On average, over 80 percent of tertiaryeducated adults are employed, compared with over 70 percent of people with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education, and less than 60 percent of adults without upper secondary education. One in five 20-24 year-olds is neither employed nor in education or training.
  • Earnings
    Tertiary-educated adults also earn about 60 percent more, on average, than adults with upper secondary as their highest level of educational attainment. In general, employment rates and earnings increase as an adult’s level of education and skills increases; but the labour market still regards a diploma or degree as the primary indication of a worker’s skills.
  • Engagement
    Adults with higher educational attainment are more likely to report that they are in good health, that they participate in volunteer activities, that they trust others, and that they feel they have a say in government.
  • Graduation Rates
    Based on current patterns, it is estimated that an average of 85 percent of today’s young people in OECD countries will complete upper secondary education over their lifetimes. An average of 35 percent of today’s young people across OECD countries are expected to graduate from tertiary education at least once before the age of 30.
  • Funding
    The education sector felt a delayed reaction to the global economic crisis of 2008. Between 2010 and 2012, as GDP began to rise following the slowdown, public expenditure on educational institutions fell in more than one in three OECD countries. In 2012, OECD countries spent an average of 5.3 percent of their GDP on educational institutions from primary to tertiary education; 11 countries with available data spent more than 6 percent of their GDP; U.S. spending was 6.4 percent.
  • Incentives to Invest in Education
    Not only does education pay off for individuals, but the public benefits of education, in greater tax revenues and social contributions from a larger proportion of tertiary-educated adults, also outweigh the cost.

On average across the 26 OECD countries with available data, the net public return for a woman who completed upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education is about USD 48 000 compared with a woman who did not complete that level of education. For a man, the net public return is USD 70 300.

Across OECD countries, the net public return on investment for a woman with tertiary education is USD 65 500 over her lifetime — 1.2 times the public cost of investment in her education. For a man, the net public return is over USD 127 400, which is almost 2.5 times the public cost of investment in his education.

It is crucial for policy makers to understand the economic incentives for individuals to invest in education. Devoting time and money in education is an investment in human capital.

Source: OECD (2015), Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris.

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This article originally appeared in the issue of .