Percentage who attain third-level qualification doubles in 20 years


The percentage of people with a third-level qualification in Ireland has doubled from 14 per cent to 31 per cent in the past 20 years, figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show.

People aged between 20 and 39 are now three times more likely to have a third-level qualification than those aged 65 and over.

The data, taken from Census 2011, presents a profile of the education and skills of the population, focusing on the age people leave education and in what field of study qualifications are held.

More than three million people aged over 15 had completed full-time education when the census was carried out in April 2011, 26 per cent of whom had a third-level degree or higher. The average age of completion of education was 19.1.

Women were better educated than men, with a third of women aged over 15 holding a third-level qualification, compared with 27 per cent of men.

Significant variations

There were significant variations in educational attainment between counties. Some 40 per cent of people in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown held a third-level qualification compared with just 17 per cent in Limerick city.

The results also indicate that the more educated a person is the more likely they are to be married. Among those aged 35 to 44, 58 per cent of people with a lower secondary-level education were married. This rose to 65 per cent for those who completed secondary school, and 69 per cent for those with a third-level qualification.

More than 389,000 people in the State left school before the age of 16, half of whom were aged 60 or over when the census was carried out. Some 43,741 were under the age of 40, and 25,509 were aged between 20 and 43.

The education sector employed 113,317 graduates, the most of any industry. This was followed by health with 68,116 graduates, retail with 38,463, social work with 34,624, and financial services with 31,645.

Almost 22,000 people held a PhD level qualification, a 52 per cent increase since the last census was carried out in 2006.

Parental education

Parental education makes a significant difference on the likelihood of young people staying in education. Twenty-year-olds with both parents educated to third-level had an 89 per cent chance of being a third-level student, which fell to 45 per cent for those with two parents who left school early.

The number of people who said they were able to speak Irish increased by 7 per cent to 1.77 million between 2006 and 2011, representing 40.6 per cent of the population. More than 77,000 speak the language daily outside school.

Galway county had the largest percentage of Irish speakers, with 51 per cent saying they could speak the language. Dublin city had the smallest percentage at 32.1 per cent.