Patterns of educational attainment vary greatly across countries, and across population groups within countries. For some, basic education is practically universal whereas for others attainment is dismal. The primary purpose of this research is to document and analyze these differences using a unique compilation of the following household data sets: Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS); Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS2); Living Standards Measurement Study Surveys (LSMS); Country-specific Integrated Household Surveys (IHS) such as Socio-Economic Surveys.
Examples by Education level | Wealth| Wealth gap | Gender | Gender gap
Education attainment across countries
On average, universal basic, or even primary, education has not been achieved in many countries. Moreover, enrollment rates do not fit a single neat pattern: countries, and different groups within countries, display a variety of profiles in attainment.
For example, in Brazil nearly all children aged 15 to 19 have completed at least one year of schooling, while only 56 percent have completed grade 6---the implied dropout rate is high and constant over time. By contrast, in India 56 percent have also completed grade 6 but this is the result of only 70 percent completing grade 1 and a relatively low dropout rate. By dramatic contrast, in Indonesia virtually all have completed grade 1, 85 percent have completed grade 6, but only 53 percent have completed grade 7 as a result of many exiting the education system during the transition from primary to junior secondary school.
Attainment by wealth
There are also dramatic differences in the attainment patterns between groups within countries. Take wealth for example. When households are ranked according to their wealth status (or more precisely, a proxy based on the assets owned by members of the household) there are striking differences in the attainment of children from the richest 20 percent compared to the poorest 40 percent.
In Mali only 12 percent of the poor have completed grade 1 whereas 60 percent of the rich have done so. In many countries, for example Pakistan and Colombia, almost all the children from rich households have completed at least one year of schooling, and in many countries they have completed the entire primary cycle. Shortfalls from universal primary completion are, for the most part, due to children from the poorest households (and in some cases middle households) not completing target levels of schooling.
Wealth gaps in attainment
There are enormous differences across countries in the gap between the educational attainment of the rich and the poor, the "wealth gap." While in some countries the difference in the median years of school completed by the rich and the poor is only one or two years, the wealth gap reaches as high as nine or ten years in some countries.
Attainment by gender
Girls are at a big educational disadvantage in some countries. For example in India whereas 81 percent of males ages 15 to 19 have completed grade 1, only 58 of females have. Although the gap narrows somewhat over time, it is still substantial at grade 5: 73 percent of males 15 to 19 have completed grade 5 compared to 51 percent for females.
Combining the effects of gender with the effects of wealth yields an enormous gap. Over 96 percent of males 15 to 19 from the wealthiest 20 percent of household have completed grade 1 compared to only 29 percent for females from the poorest 40 percent of households. Although there is some attrition across grades, the gap does not narrow much. Only 9.5 percent of females from the poorest households have completed grade 8, the end of basic education.
Gender gaps in attainment
As for wealth, there are enormous differences across countries in the gap between the educational attainment of males and females. While in some countries, particularly in South Asia and western and central Africa, the difference is large, in others it is small. In several Latin American countries there is even a female advantage.
Updated: July 8, 2009