Danish education – some numbers

The data included in this post are from Statistics Denmark, Statistikbanken – “KRHFU1: Befolkningens højeste fuldførte uddannelse (15-69 år) efter område, herkomst, uddannelse alder og køn.” I had a look at the documentation and most of the data are registry data, but the data on immigrants are survey-based (and thus less reliable) – no surveys have been conducted since 2006, so all immigrants who’ve arrived since then have an ‘unknown education level’ in the data. If you’re more curious about that subject I presented some other, much more detailed, data on the same topic a while ago here. If you disaggregate the data on immigrants and descendants, the image looks worse than it does here because descendants of Western immigrants have a different age profile than do descendants of non-Western immigrants – one third of descendants of Western immigrants are above the age of 30, whereas only 6% of non-Western descendants are that old (also, only 10% of all descendants in Denmark have reached the age of 30). Another aspect adding to the confusion is the fact that Western immigrants are quite well educated, which contributes to the confusion about the numbers – if you look at ‘Danish immigrants’, you’re basically mixing data drawn from two completely different distributions.

If you want to know more about the Danish education system this link may be of some use (note that there’s a lot of additional stuff in the sidebar there). Regarding the higher education stuff, a short-cycle higher education is at most two years long, a medium-cycle higher education is from 2-4 years long. The latter differs from a ‘standard’ Danish bachelor’s degree: “Professionally oriented higher education programmes are offered at colleges. Whereas in other countries, similar programmes may be offered by universities, in Denmark they have traditionally been offered by specialised colleges” (from the link). Long-cycle higher education corresponds to a Master’s degree. Click to view graphs in full size. All data reported are from the 2012 data sets. There aren’t all that many data included in this post, but part of the reason is that the source only gave the raw data – not percentage stuff (which is much more informative) – and variable transformations take time. Anyway…

So, let’s have a look at the data… I figured it’d be interesting to look at the first cohort of ‘young people’ (30-34) consisting of people about whom we can say with relative certainty that almost all of them have completed their formal education. I’ll start out with the males:

Descendant n is not that high compared to the other groups, but I think it’s ‘high enough to draw conclusions’ from the data (n=3041). Descendants are more than twice as likely to not get any education aside from grundskole than are people of Danish origin. What about the females?

Females are more likely to get an education so the numbers generally look better. When including all groups, 17,7% of males and 12,9% of females end up with only grundskole – it’s a significant difference, but it’s not actually that high compared to some of the variation we see in these data. The female descendants (n=2873) are roughly twice as likely to only have a grundskole education (22.8% vs 11,9%) as are people of Danish origin. Male immigrants were much less likely to have attended vocational school than were males of Danish origin; that difference is almost gone when we’re looking at the females. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, do have in mind that a lot of those ‘unknown education level’ immigrants are people with very little education, and/or education which is not worth a lot on the Danish labour market – immigrants who’ve studied here have known education levels, and most of the people with an unknown education level aren’t highly educated foreigners who love the Danish weather and our marginal tax rates.

Education rates have increased over time. Below I’ve compared the numbers for males at the age of 65-69 with the 30-34 year old cohort. I didn’t really see why I should care about the education levels of immigrants or descendants in that age group, so I only included people of Danish origin:

Note here that the mandatory education level back then was lower than it is now (7 years vs 9 years), so most of the people in this graph with only grundskole education have spent less time in school than have the groups in the sections above. The numbers are not identical, but they’re not that different given how much the educational system changed over that 35 year period. I think it’s interesting that ‘only high school’ (or technical/trade high school) was a less likely scenario for people in this group than for the younger generation, but on the other hand it’s not surprising.

How about the females?

The difference is significant. The number of uneducated women has been reduced dramatically and the number of females who are highly educated has gone up a lot. The proportion of 30-34 year old females of Danish origin with a long-cycle higher education is higher than the proportion of males of Danish origin with a long-cycle higher education (15.6% vs 13.2%). The same pattern is seen in the younger 25-29 year old cohort: In that age group, 6,86% of males of Danish origin (n=8791) have completed a long-cycle higher education, whereas the corresponding number for females of Danish origin (n=10168) is 8,22% (which is a 20% difference). Here’s a mapping of all relevant cohorts included in the data set:

It’s well known that females are more likely to get a medium-cycle higher education than are males (n=34921 or 25,6% of females and n=14750 or 10,6% of males at the ages of 30-34 have such an education), so I decided to also look at the proportion of the genders with any type of higher education (short-cycle, medium-cycle, bachelor, long-cycle or PhD) and condition on age. A lot of people would probably be surprised to learn that it looks this way:

In case you want to argue that the short-cycle ones are roughly equivalent to vocational schooling (‘females take short-cycle higher educations where males take vocational schooling’), it’s worth noting that for all age groups males are more likely to get a short-cycle higher education than are females. No, the difference derives from the other categories. It seems that females are better educated than males on average and have been for decades – I did not expect that.

The dataset also includes some information about geographical variation. The percentage of people with a long-cycle higher education varies a lot:

(Wikipedia can help you if you don’t know anything about the Danish regions). If you meet a random person above the age of 30 on the street, he or she is more than three times as likely to have a long-cycle higher education if the person is from Copenhagen than if the person is from the Region of Southern Denmark. If you restrict your search to include only people drawn from the younger cohorts, the differences become even larger. If you scale down further and look at the differences at the municipal level, they are just huge; to take but one example, 3,1% of Danes above 30 years of age from the Jammerbugt municipality have a long-cycle higher education, whereas the corresponding number for people living in the Gentofte municipality is 29,6%.


November 8, 2012 - Posted by | Data, Demographics, education


  1. Quickly, men quotas for the universities.

    Comment by Emil | November 19, 2012 | Reply

    • Gender disparities favouring females are usually not considered problematic by political decisionmakers. So ‘not gonna happen’.

      Anyway, current regional differences here are much larger than gender differences – why not start out with regional quotas where there’s a lot more low-hanging fruit? A simple policy intervention dealing with some of the educational disparities across regions: ‘Policy rule: All regions should have at least X % people with post-secondary education. In regions where the proportion of people with a post-secondary education is higher than X %, highly educated individuals are randomly selected by the government to move to a region where less than X % have a post-secondary education.’ If you think that sounds insane, do remember that at least for one group of highly educated individuals – doctors – similar policies determining where people should live and work already exist (though they are limited in time).

      No, I would not be in favour of such a proposal.

      The gender difference in educational achievement we observe today in Denmark, with females on average obtaining higher educational levels than males, incidentally isn’t just a Danish phenomenon: “while men [from the US] born in the late 1940s had about a 10 percentage point lead in terms of college graduation rates compared to women [from the US] born in the late 1940s, that gap had been eliminated by 1980; women are now the majority among graduates of four-year colleges.” (New Perspectives on Gender, by Marianne Bertrand, chapter 17). You can find a breakdown of some of the US data here (I blogged those data a long time ago). Females now make up roughly 60 % of all US college graduates.

      Comment by US | November 20, 2012 | Reply

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