What regional data tells us about educational attainment and labour-market outcomes

By Simon Normandeau

Statistician, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

How much do you know about the region you live in and how it compares with other regions in your country? What about at the international level? Despite the wealth of information on the state of education around the world in our annual publication Education at a Glance, most countries are still unable to compare regional performance at the national and international level.

To address this gap, in 2015 we embarked on a collaboration with the US National Center for Education Statistics to collect data at the regional (or subnational) level, which increasing numbers of countries have made available over the years. Thanks to our collaboration with Eurostat and the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities, Education at a Glance now covers more than 400 regions across 32 countries. We take a closer look at this regional data in the latest edition of Education Indicators in Focus, with a focus on educational attainment and labour market outcomes.

The number and characteristics of regions vary significantly across the countries covered in Education at a Glance, and these differences need to be taken into account. The Russian Federation, for example, covers 17,000,000 km2 and 85 regions, while Slovenia encompasses just 20,000 km2 and two regions. In large countries, the ethnic, geographical, climatic or economic variations across regions are likely to be greater than in smaller countries.

But there are some common characteristics among the 32 countries covered in our analysis. Our analysis finds that in 18 countries, there is at least one region where at least 20% of 25-34 year-olds have not finished upper secondary education; and in some countries – Brazil, Mexico, Portugal and Turkey – all regions are above this threshold. This percentage is particularly high in Mexico and Turkey, where, in some regions, more than 60% of young adults are low-educated.

Young people face vastly different challenges when transitioning from education to the labour market, depending on their region’s economic wealth.

Our analysis also finds that most people without upper secondary education struggle to find employment, at both the national and regional level. There are only 10 regions where more than 80% of low-educated younger adults are employed. Tertiary educated young adults fare notably better in the job market. Employment rates for 25-34 year-olds with tertiary education are at least 80% in 237 regions, suggesting that attaining higher education is likely to reap benefits wherever you live.

Young people face vastly different challenges when transitioning from education to the labour market, depending on their region’s economic wealth. The data show that in regions with a higher GDP per capita, 18-24 year-olds living are less likely to be neither employed nor in education or training (NEET). In many countries, a large share of national wealth is concentrated in capital cities, which are typically located in regions with the lowest share of NEET individuals. The Prague region of the Czech Republic, for example, has the lowest share of 18-24 year-old NEETs in the country (4.7%) and its GDP per capita is more than double that of any other Czech region.

This is just a glimpse of what regional education data can reveal, and the findings may be surprising. As a Canadian, I knew that my home province of Quebec had one of the highest shares of low-educated adults in the country. But when compared to other regions across the world, Quebec is actually on the low end of the scale. You can see how your region compares internationally in our Regional Statistics Database.

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