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America's Young Adults: Special Issue, 2014

Educational Attainment

Educational attainment is associated with many other measures, including income, employment, and political participation, and is an indicator of how young adults are shaping their future prospects. Educational attainment refers to the highest level of education completed regardless of current enrollment in school. Over time, there have been increases in the percentages of young adults ages 18–24 that have attained higher levels of education.

Indicator Ed1: Percentage distribution of young adults ages 18–24 by gender and highest level of educational attainment, selected years 1980, 1995, and 2013
Percentage distribution of young adults ages 18–24 by gender and highest level of educational attainment, selected years 1980, 1995, and 2013

* Not available.

a Includes equivalency certification in 1995 and 2013.

b In 1980, "Some college" refers to completion of one or more years of college. In 1995 and 2013, the term refers to completion of any college at all.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, March and Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

  • In 2013, some 17 percent of young adults ages 18–24 had not completed high school, while 83 percent had at least a high school diploma or equivalency certification. Although many young adults had not yet completed their educational pursuits, the highest level of educational attainment for 28 percent of young adults was high school completion, while 39 percent had attended some college, 6 percent had an associate's degree, and 10 percent had a bachelor's or higher degree.
  • Among young adults in 2013, higher percentages of females than males reported attending some college, receiving an associate's degree, or receiving a bachelor's or higher degree. A higher percentage of males than females had completed only high school or less education.
  • The percentages of females and males with at least a high school education were higher in 2013 than in 1980.
  • Despite improvements in educational attainment, literacy levels among young adults in the United States remain lower than in many other countries. According to the 2012 Survey of Adult Skills, U.S. young adults ages 16–19 who had completed high school scored 15 points lower than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average in literacy proficiency (270 vs. 285 points). Twelve of 18 participating OECD countries had higher scores for young high school completers, and none had measurably lower scores.13

table icon YAED1 HTML Table

13 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2013). OECD skills outlook 2013: First results from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Publishing. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264204256-en.