Outcomes are associated with:




Indigenous Status

Mental Health





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Education matters: we know that it affects individual, national, social, and economic outcomes.

Educational attainment is important in influencing development and wellbeing1, and has been found to be positively correlated with civic participation – political interest and engagement, volunteering – and trust2: critical elements for a cohesive and well-functioning society.

So how is Australia faring in education? What are our rates of participation and attainment across various age groups? How do educational attainment levels vary across the population?

Educational participation

The good news is that educational participation has increased in both primary and high school years between 2006 and 2011. Data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey (HILDA) suggest that younger people are staying in school for longer, and transitioning to post-school education at a later age.

Analysis of HILDA data reveal that the proportions of 15 to 19 year olds studying for various types of post-school qualifications remained stable between 2001 and 2013, with close to half undertaking a Bachelor Degree. This qualification was also the most common for 20 to 24 year olds, with a significant increase from 58.2% in 2001 to 67.0% in 2013. Over the same period, the proportion of 20 to 24 year olds undertaking a graduate diploma or graduate certificate significantly decreased from 2.5% to 0.6%.

The participation of people aged 25 years and over in postgraduate and advanced diploma and diploma, remained stable between 2001 and 2013. There was, however, a small but significant decrease over the same period in the proportion of 25 year olds and over studying for a graduate diploma or graduate certificate, and enrolments in Bachelor Degree and Certificate significantly increased for this group.

Educational attainment

Educational attainment, defined as an individual’s highest level of education successfully completed3, correlates highly with job security and employment outcomes4. Educational attainment has increased across the country over time.

With respect to high school attainment, according to census data from the ABS, by 2011 almost 7 in 10 (69.8%) 20-24-year-olds had achieved Year 12 (or equivalent), compared to 67.2% in 2006. In addition, the Year 12 (or equivalent) attainment rate for adults aged 25 and over also increased from 41.0% in 2006 to 46.9% in 2011.

Education - Yr12 ABS

HILDA data from 2001 to 2013 go on to illustrate that the proportion of adults aged 20-24 with at least Year 12 (or equivalent) has also increased, from 78.8% in 2001 to 85.0% in 2013.

Education - Yr12 HILDA

According to ABS data, the population’s post-school qualification educational attainment levels have also increased over time. By 2011, close to one in two people aged 25 years or older (49.0%) had a post-school qualification in Australia, up from 43.0% in 2006.

Education - Post School qualification

What else affects participation and attainment rates?

Regression analysis of 2013 HILDA data revealed that:

Indigenous people were less likely than their non-Indigenous counterparts to be enrolled in study; to have at least Year 12; or attained a post-school qualification.

People with a disability also had a lower probability of studying, having at least Year 12, or of attaining a post-school qualification than people without a disability.

While there were no significant differences in the likelihood of studying for people with different levels of psychological distress, people with high or very high levels of distress were significantly less likely to have completed Year or more education or to have achieved a post-school qualification.

Similarly, disadvantage plays a significant role in educational attainment. People living in areas of least relative disadvantage were more likely to be studying than people in areas of median disadvantage. We saw that the probability of having at least Year 12 went up as relative disadvantage decreased.

People living in remote areas were less likely to be participating in education compared to people living in major cities. Further, as remoteness increased, the probability of having at least Year 12 or having a post-school qualification decreased.

In Conclusion

While we can see that educational participation and attainment has improved across both primary school and high school, there is still enormous room for improvement, especially across Indigenous groups, people with psychological distress, people living in areas of disadvantage, and people living in remote areas in Australia.


  1. MCEECDYA 2008. Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. Melbourne: Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA).
  3. SCHNEIDER, S. 2011. Measuring educational attainment. Survey Question Bank: Topic Overview 6. GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences.
  4. WYN, J. & WOODMAN, D. 2006. Generation, youth and social change in Australia. Journal of Youth Studies, 9, 495-514.