Young women more likely to have degrees than male peers

Younger gender gap linked to ‘boom’ trend of men leaving school to work, show CSO figures

Young women are much more likely to have third-level qualifications than young men, new figures show.

A Central Statistics Office report notes a significant educational attainment gap between the genders among those aged in their 20s and early 30s.

Among 20- to 24-year-olds, for example, 24 per cent of males had a third-level qualification, compared to 33 per cent of women. Similarly, among 25- to 34-year-olds, 47 per cent of males had a third-level qualification, compared to 59 per cent of females.

However, there was little if any gender difference among older age groups, such as those in their 50s and 60s.


Education experts say the gender gap among younger people is linked to the boom-time trend of young men leaving school to work in construction and other sectors.

The third-level gender gap has been narrowing in more recent years, though official figures are not contained in the study.

Striking regional differences

The CSO's Educational Attainment Thematic Report 2017 also shows striking regional differences in education levels.

Dublin had the highest proportion of 25- to 64-year-olds with third-level qualifications (54 per cent).

It was followed by the mideast (47 per cent), including commuter belt counties such as Kildare, Meath and Wicklow; the southwest and the west (both 46 per cent).

By contrast, the midlands had the lowest proportion (34 per cent), followed the Border counties (36 per cent).

When compared to the EU, Ireland has one of the highest third-level qualification rates

Figures also show the extent to which better-educated people are much more likely to be in employment.

Those with a third-level qualification are more than twice as likely to be in the labour force (87 per cent) compared to those with just a primary-level education (41 per cent).

Those with just primary education, or no formal education, were over four times more likely to be unemployed (14 per cent) than those with a third-level qualification (3 per cent).

The CSO report also reflects progress being made in reducing the proportion of early school leavers.

The early-school-leaving rate among 18- to 24-year-olds has fallen from 14 per cent in 2004 to 5 per cent last year, one of the lowest proportions in the EU.

Across the EU's 29 member states in 2016, an average of 11 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds were classified as early school leavers. This ranked Ireland seventh lowest among EU member states.

Boosting school completion

The strides being made in boosting school completion rates in Ireland are also evident, with 94 per cent of students staying on until the end of secondary school.

The corresponding figure for the EU is 83 per cent, ranking Ireland second among EU member states.

Overall, the number of people with third-level qualifications is continuing to rise. Last year, 45 per cent of 25- to 64-year-olds had a third-level qualification, compared to 36 per cent in 2009.

When compared to the EU, Ireland has one of the highest third-level qualification rates. Among 30- to 34-year-olds, most in Ireland had third-level qualifications (53 per cent).

This places the State fourth, behind Lithuania (59 per cent), Luxembourg (55 per cent) and Cyprus (53 per cent).

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent