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Is it true that only 6.7% of the world hold university degrees?

  1. Dec 5, 2012 #1
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 5, 2012 #2
    I can't say whether it is right or wrong, but I do think the percentage might be correct.

    It may seem low to you, but go to a third-world country and you won't find so many people who went to university. And remember that a vast majority of the world consists out of third-world countries! If you ask for the education level in the US, then you will get a higher percentage.

    Also, if you have a university degree, then I think that you tend to be friends with people who have a similar education level. Therefore, you might not always meet the people without such an education.
  4. Dec 5, 2012 #3
    I'll quote wiki here for the percentages of education in the US:


    So indeed, it is a much larger number.
  5. Dec 5, 2012 #4
    Here in this wealthy American city I live in, everyone I know has university degrees.
  6. Dec 5, 2012 #5


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    But Huffington is world wide, wiki is US only?
  7. Dec 5, 2012 #6
    Yeah. I was saying that the education level in the US was much higher than 6.7%. And the wiki shows this. Huffington post only talks about word wide.
  8. Dec 5, 2012 #7

    D H

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    How many people do you know in rural China? Rural India? Sub-Saharan Africa? The people that you know are not a representative sample of the world as a whole.

    By way of analogy, look to the last US Presidential election. The Romney partisans couldn't imagine anyone voting for Obama. Everyone they knew was going to vote for Romney. The Romney camp was absolutely certain they were going to win the election. They held this view even after multiple news outlets declared that Obama had won Ohio. Needless to say, Romney did not win the election.
  9. Dec 5, 2012 #8
    So only about 27% of the US population holds bachelors or higher? That is still too small for a supposed "1st World" country.
  10. Dec 5, 2012 #9
    Isn't it 17.1% who have bachelor degrees?
  11. Dec 5, 2012 #10
    It's ambiguous indeed. I think the wiki says that 17.1% only has a bachelor degree and that 9.9% has a graduate degree. So adding that up gives 27%.
    But you can interpret it your way too, we'll have to look at the raw data.
  12. Dec 5, 2012 #11

    D H

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    I think those numbers are intended to mean the highest level of education attained. Then again, that's wikipedia for ya.
  13. Dec 5, 2012 #12
    Here is the original source of the data:

    So indeed, they mean that about 27% have bachelors or higher (otherwise the percentages wouldn't add up to 100%).
  14. Dec 5, 2012 #13

    D H

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    No, not really. It's a good cry better than most European countries, at least until recently. Its you young'uns who are messing up the statistics. The percentage of young Americans who go to and finish college is dropping compared to the rest of the advanced world. Source: http://completionagenda.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/reports_pdf/Progress_Report_2010.pdf
  15. Dec 5, 2012 #14


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    Young messing it up? There aren't a lot of 80 year old women with degrees, are there? I would think starting in the 60s there was an explosion in attainment due to women going at a higher rate.
  16. Dec 5, 2012 #15
    The low percentage of people with university degrees really makes me wonder about the fact that there are unemployed university graduates.
  17. Dec 5, 2012 #16
    Not every university degree gets you a job easily, and not every university degree is popular.

    For example, engineers are always in demand. So if you study engineering, then you will find a job more easily than most other degrees. However, the number of engineering students is not so high.

    Another example, one of the more popular degrees is psychology. However, there is not real shortage for psychologists, so those people might find it harder to get a job.
  18. Dec 5, 2012 #17


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    Even in the developed world, the percentage of the population who has been to college is not the same as the percentage of college age kids who are now at college, because college attendance rates have risen over time.

    For example the UK 2011 census gives 30% of the working age population as having "level 4 or higher" qualifications (which includes some vocational qualifications that probably wouldn't count as a first degree). That is significantly lower than the 38% of college age people who are currently attending college.

    If you include the whole UK population, including retirees and those too young to have a degree, the percentage with degrees is much lower than 30% (It's hard to get the number from the census data, but my best guess is nearer 15% than 30%).
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2012
  19. Dec 5, 2012 #18


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    It's easy to get distorted perceptions if you live in a developed country, such as the US. For example, an American in the US would imagine India must have a much better education system than the US based on their personal experiences, but that's because Americans don't meet average Indians in the US - they meet the best educated people from India.

    For example - this assessment of US higher education vs India higher education: High School Grads in China, India Are Better Prepared for College

    Contrasted with a slightly more in depth analysis of what those graduation rates mean: A College Education Without Job Prospects

    It takes a long time to build a "good" public education system. It doesn't get built simply by a rapid of infusion of cash. It takes a good education system to educate the teachers that will make a good education system possible, which is a real conundrum (not to mention that, if well educated people are rare, why would they stay in a poorly paying job). So all those third world countries that had almost no education system only a few decades ago wind up, at best, with an education system similar to India. The best schools are very, very good. The average schools are laughable because you can't build a quality education system for that many people in such a short time. And, world wide, India would have an above average education system (and, to be fair, part of India's problem is the same as most other non-English language countries - the global marketplace is dominated by English).

    And I put "good" in quotes, because a large number of Americans consider the US education system to be pretty pathetic. Once again, there's no way for Americans to appreciate what the average education is on a world-wide basis.
  20. Dec 6, 2012 #19
    So to have the most accurate percentage only people aged 21 and higher should be included.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  21. Dec 6, 2012 #20

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    If you make that 25 and higher, the worldwide percentage of people who have completed some kind of tertiary education rises to 8.6%. Note well: Tertiary education includes things like learning to be an auto repair mechanic, a cosmetician, or a welder. The percentage of people who hold university degrees is a much smaller number.

    Play with the data yourself. You can download the underlying dataset from http://www.barrolee.com.

    You have to remember that the world of today is little different from the world of a century ago for a significant majority of the world's population. For a good chunk of the world's population, the world of today is little different from the world of thousands of years ago. You don't know those people. They don't have computers or the internet, they don't have cars, they don't have phones. Just because you don't know them doesn't mean they don't exist. They outnumber those of us who do have computers, internet access, cars, and phones by quite a bit.
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