University graduates can expect to be earning between 20 and 100 per cent more by the middle of their working lives than non-graduates, and all tertiary education graduates spend on average considerably longer in employment - typically six years more, according to the OECD figures.
University is the level of education that most enhances an individual's earning powers as well as opening the door to more training than is received by those who end their education after secondary school. Those who complete secondary school can expect to earn more than those who do not; but the earnings gap between these two categories is smaller than that between those who end their education after completing secondary school and university graduates.
By the time people are in their 30s and early 40s they earn, on average, between 30 and 80 per cent more than those who stopped at the end of upper secondary education. There are predictable disparities; the gap is wider in the United States than in more egalitarian countries such as Denmark. Gender differences emerge as well; a male Swedish university graduate can expect to earn 60 per cent more than a male school-leaver; the gap for women is closer to 40 per cent.
Women with degrees from universities in the United Kingdom and Ireland enjoy the biggest "education premium", with earnings about twice those of women who do not go beyond upper secondary school. Dutch male university graduates aged between 30 and 44 have earnings only 26 per cent above those of Dutch males leaving education after completing secondary schooling, while there is a similar gap between female university graduates and secondary school-leavers in New Zealand.
In the UK, the male university graduate in the 30 to 44 age group earns on average 66 per cent more than the secondary school-leaver of the same sex (women 97 per cent), and the male graduate from non-university institutions 17 per cent more (women 51 per cent more.) With a single exception in OECD states (Hungarian women aged 55 to 64 who completed secondary education), women earn less on average at all levels of educational attainment than their male equivalents in the 30 to 44 and 55 to 64 age groups.
To become a graduate it helps to have well-educated parents. The chances of a child born to parents who did not finish secondary school entering university are rarely better than one in five; for the offspring of one or more graduate parents the chances are between two and three in five. Although international differences in this respect have narrowed, in some countries (notably Australia) the chances of a child born to non-graduate parents winning a university-level degree are now poorer than they were a generation ago.
Tertiary education graduates work longer than those without higher education qualifications. For the OECD as a whole, the mean length of employment for men is 34.4 years (UK 34.3 years) compared with 31.7 years for those who finish upper secondary school (UK 31.8) and 28.2 years for those who do not (UK 25 years). Graduates also spend much less time out of the labour market or unemployed.
For women, the figures are 29.1 years (UK 31.4 years), 23.4 years (UK .8 years) and 18.1 years (UK 20 years). Female graduates typically spend ten years longer in the labour market than female non-graduates.
14 international newsThe Times HigherJnovember J1998 just 22 per cent of the population get a degree