Mean years of schooling (MYS), the average number of completed years of education of a population, is a widely used measure of a country's stock of human capital. Since 2010, MYS is used as one of two education indicators (the second education indicator is the school life expectancy) in the calculation of the Human Development Index (HDI) (UNDP, 2010).
A well-known data set with estimates of MYS was developed by Robert Barro and Jong-Wha Lee, two pioneers in this field of work. In 1993, Barro and Lee published an article describing their data set, which was partly derived from data on educational attainment by the Division of Statistics of UNESCO. Barro and Lee continue to update their data set, which is available at their website.
In December 2013, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the successor of the Division of Statistics of UNESCO, published its first estimates of MYS of the population aged 25 years and older. This indicator, used in the calculation of the HDI, had previously not been available in the database of the UIS. The UIS methodology is based on the approach by Barro and Lee. There are still important gaps in the UIS database but the UIS will attempt to fill them in the coming years.
The figure below summarizes the MYS estimates released by the UIS in December 2013. The UIS provides data for 103 countries and territories from the period 1996 to 2013. In the figure, only the latest available data are shown for each country. All countries are grouped by geographic region and sorted by MYS of the total population. As noted above, there are large gaps in the UIS database. For example, MYS estimates are only available for 13 of the 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. For two thirds of all countries, the MYS estimates are from 2007 or a later year but for the remaining countries, the most recent estimates are more than 6 years old. In spite of these gaps, some interesting patterns can be observed in the data.
MYS is highest (generally 8 years or more) in North America and Western Europe, Central Asia, and Central and Eastern Europe. Among the countries with data, the highest MYS was calculated for the United Kingdom in 2011: 13.8 years. By contrast, MYS values are lowest in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In Burkina Faso, men and women 25 years and older completed on average less than one year of schooling.
Gender disparities, indicated by the difference between male and female MYS, are smallest in North America and Western Europe and in Central Asia, and largest in sub-Saharan Africa and in South and West Asia. In Pakistan, adult men had on average completed 3 more years of schooling than adult women in 2011 (6.2 years for men versus 3.1 years for women). In East Asia and the Pacific and in sub-Saharan Africa, the spread between the countries with the lowest and highest MYS is more than 10 years. In the Arab States, Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and North America and Western Europe, the difference between the countries with the lowest and highest MYS is 6 years or less.
Mean years of schooling of the population 25 years and older, latest year available (click image to enlarge)
Note: Countries in each region sorted by MYS of total population.
Source: UIS Data Centre, December 2013, http://stats.uis.unesco.org.
The full data set with UIS estimates of MYS is available in the UIS Data Centre. The data set lists MYS values for the total, male and female population 25 years and older of 103 countries and territories, as well as the educational attainment data on which the MYS estimates are based.
- Go to the UIS Data Centre at http://stats.uis.unesco.org.
- Click on "Predefined Tables".
- Click on "Literacy and Educational Attainment".
- Click on "Mean years of schooling of population aged 25 years and older" to download an Excel file with all data.
- Barro, Robert J. and Jong-Wha Lee. 1993. "International Comparisons of Educational Attainment." Journal of Monetary Economics 32 (3) (December): 363–394. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0304-3932(93)90023-9.
- UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). 2013. UIS Methodology for Estimation of Mean Years of Schooling. Montreal: UIS. http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Documents/mean-years-schooling-indicator-methodology-en.pdf.
- United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2010. Human Development Report 2010 – The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development. New York: UNDP. http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-report-2010.
- Mean years of schooling: New indicator sheds light on the average education level of national populations (UIS announcement of MYS release)
- Human Development Index (HDI)
- Barro-Lee educational attainment data set
- Educational attainment in sub-Saharan Africa
- Educational attainment in Brazil since 1920
- Educational attainment in India, 1950-2000
- Educational attainment in the United States, 1940-2009
- Poverty and educational attainment in the United States
- Poverty and educational attainment in the United States, part 2