This week, the OECD report Education at a Glance 2009 earned a lot of well-deserved media attention (you can download it here). Of particular interest, as The Economist points out, the finding that, even as higher education becomes more widespread, it does not lose value:
“Every year we wonder if this will be the year that higher education starts to lose its value—and every year, there is no sign of it happening,” says Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s chief of education research.
Much has been made of the OECD’s measure of incremental lifetime earnings from tertiary education: across the countries surveyed, gross earnings benefits average out at $186,000 for men (in 2005 money, at purchasing power parity) and $134,000 for women. Even once you subtract the direct cost of the education and the opportunity cost in terms of wages not earned while studying, and make numerous other adjustments, the net present value of the benefits to the individual is still largely positive. National economies as well as the public coffers also come out ahead when their citizens get more education (a hot topic in times of shrinking education budgets).
You will have noticed that the OECD averages show that the individual or private gross benefit for men is 39% higher than for women. This is politely attributed to “the disparity in most countries between male and female earnings”. But how big is this disparity, education levels being equal – and what does it tell us about OECD countries?
You are welcome to look for yourself at the figures in Table A8.2 (as well as all the other tables helpfully provided), but I’ve run the numbers for you here:
Ratio of gross incremental male earnings to gross incremental female earnings from tertiary education, selected OECD countries
(100 %= men and women have the same incremental earnings from tertiary education)
- Italy: 236%
- Hungary: 182%
- Poland: 177%
- Czech Republic: 172%
- Sweden: 163%
- Average: 139%
- Norway: 111%
- Australia: 110%
- Turkey: 102%
- Spain: 95%
- Korea: 77%
In other words: it always pays off to get a degree. It pays off for everybody, men and women. In a country like Turkey or Spain, it pays off to the tune of about the same incremental earnings for men and women. In the OECD as a whole, it pays off for men about 1.4 times as much as for women. But in Italy, a university degree pays off 2.36 times as much for men as for women.
Where is our Minister for Equal Opportunity? and what does she have to say about the equality of opportunities shown in these numbers?