Educational Attainment


Educational attainment measures the highest level of formal schooling individuals (25-64 years of age) have completed.

Why This Matters

Educational attainment is an important indicator of the knowledge, skills, and competencies that allow people to participate effectively in our society and in the economy. People with high levels of formal education are less likely to become unemployed and earn significantly more income throughout their lifetime (OECD, 2011a).

Studies have shown that educational attainment has an impact on many aspects of well-being, with higher education related to longer lives, greater participation in politics and in the community, and lower crime (OECD, 2011a). Consequently, educational attainment provides a good indicator of a person’s well-being as well as of whether students are being adequately prepared to meet the demands of the labour market.

Educational attainment is commonly used as a proxy measure for the skills available in the population and the labour force (OECD, 2011b). People with higher education levels also tend to be less prone to unemployment and have significantly higher lifetime earnings from income (OECD, 2011a). Consequently, individuals with higher education levels are in a much better position to provide for themselves and their families.

Educational attainment also links to health. Social determinants of health research indicates that higher levels of education contribute to longer and healthier lives (Ross & Wu, 1996; Lleras-Muney, 2005). Part of this relationship links to behaviours associated with higher education: “The well-educated are less likely to smoke, are more likely to exercise, to get health check-ups, and to drink moderately” (Ross & Woo, 1995).

Measurement and Limitations

Educational attainment is measured as the highest level of formal education completed by individuals 25 to 64 years of age. There are three levels of educational attainment measured:

  1. no certificate or diploma
  2. a secondary school diploma or equivalent, and
  3. postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree. 

This indicator only takes into account the highest level of formal education completed. Therefore, if someone completed high school and received a diploma from a university, they would only be counted under the ‘postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree’ category since it is their highest level of education.

This indicator does not measure other forms of knowledge, skills and competencies that exist outside of the formal education system. 

Data Source

Statistics Canada. 2022. (table). Census Profile2021 Census of Population. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-316-X2021001. Ottawa. Released December 15, 2022.

Statistics Canada. 2017. Canada [Country] and Canada [Country] (table). Census Profile. 2016 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-316-X2016001. Ottawa. Released November 29, 2017.

Statistics Canada. 2013. Canada (Code 01) (table). National Household Survey (NHS) Profile. 2011 National Household Survey. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 99-004-XWE. Ottawa. Released September 11, 2013.

Statistics Canada. 2007. Canada (Code01) (table). 2006 Community Profiles. 2006 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 92-591-XWE. Ottawa. Released March 13, 2007.

Data is updated on Peg as it becomes available from the data providers.


Lleras-Muney, A. (1995). The relationship between education and adult mortality in the United States. Review of Economic Studies, 72, 189-221.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2011a). Compendium of OECD well-being indicators. Retrieved from:

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2011b). Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators. Retrieved from:

Ross, Catherine E. & Chia-ling Wu. (1995). The links between education and health.” American Sociological Review, 60, 719-45.

Ross, C.E. & C-L Wu. 1996. Education, age and the cumulative advantage in health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 37(1), 104-120.

Statistics Canada. (2006). Census guide 2B. Retrieved from


Educational Attainment in the Sustainable Development Goals

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4. Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning
4. Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning

4. Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning

Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development. Major progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrolment rates in schools particularly for women and girls. Basic literacy skills have improved tremendously, yet bolder efforts are needed to make even greater strides for achieving universal education goals. For example, the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, but few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education.

Related Educational Attainment Targets


By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship