How has school attainment varied across countries in the last 50 years?

Now that Valerie Strauss has called my field the unsexy academic arena of education history, albeit while trying to calm down those affected by "Ravitch Rage," I should evidently switch fields, maybe to something sexier like economics of education or even Fuller brush sales.

But before I quit not only the field of the history of education and especially quantitative education history, I need to demonstrate exactly how boring my work is. Below is a draft figure from work I'm doing with data from the International Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS), a project of the Minnesota Population Center. This is a summary display of the attainment of 25-29 year olds included in census samples across 30 jurisdictions (29 countries plus Puerto Rico) that had attainment data on at least three censuses, using about 6.5 million records. I have some questions about individual sets of the data and the definitions used to harmonize the attainment variable (especially for German 1987 and France throughout), but at a glance this shows both the general expansion of educational attainment across different continents and some of the differences (both by level of education and, for some countries, by sex). Each period (on the outsides) represents 1% of the sample for that country, census year, and sex with a primary education but no secondary education; an "i" is 1% of the sample completing secondary schooling; a "|" is 1% of the sample with completed university schooling. Definitely unsexy. 

Something to keep in mind on the timing of the census: since I chose an age interval that had generally-completed schooling (25-29), the census year would come approximately 10 years after the individuals would have completed secondary schooling and 20 years after the start of primary schooling. So changes reflect shifts in cohort experiences rather than the educational institutions and experiences around the time of the census. (The teeny-writing column in the middle is the cohort birth years extrapolated backwards from the year of the census.)

2 responses to “How has school attainment varied across countries in the last 50 years?”

  1. CCPhysicist

    Draft figure? My observations are

    1) I don’t see any good reason for using a different color, let alone one with poorer contrast, for female students.

    2) It is essentially impossible to tell where 100% is. In quantitative fields like physics, we expect a clear scale and boundary for any graph. There should be a thin vertical black line just to the right of where a 100% dot would (or does) appear.

    3) Comparison of male with female, and even between countries, is complicated by the lack of any background scale. I’d suggest a lightly shaded background, perhaps a pale beige or yellow to contrast with dark blue, from 0 to 30 and from 70 to 100. I’d put a darker line, say yellow, at those boundaries (between 30 and 31 and between 69 and 70) to clearly set off the boundary between beige and white. Or use 33-34 and 66-67 if you prefer splitting into thirds.

    A clear reference point around 30 or 33 is really important to enhance one’s ability to see the M-F differences in college degree attainment in some countries, secondary in others. I lean towards 30 because I think it might make some of the college comparisons really pop off of the page.