Reconstructing Educational Attainment of Populations in the 20th Century

Human capital was at the heart of the social, economic and technological transformations that occurred during the 20th century. Education, one of the key components of human capital, is essential for appraising the level of socio-economic development of societies. However, historical data on education are sparse and largely inconsistent across time and countries. Consequently, it is difficult to quantitatively assess the contribution of education to the major societal developments.

The Project

The EDU20C project aims at filling the gap in historical data on education for the 20th century by reconstructing consistent and harmonised time series on educational attainment at the country level. Reconstructions of educational attainment utilise the multistate cohort component projection method applied to back-projections. The output of the EDU20C project is the population by age, sex and levels of education covering the period 1900 to 2010 for selected countries spanning several world regions. The database is regularly updated and more countries will be added.

This webpage presents both EDU20C estimates of levels of educational attainment at country level and the original source data on which those estimates are based. We also analyse and compare the main trends across time and countries. Details are available about the methodology and about the challenges related to data collection, reconstruction and harmonisation that were faced during project implementation. The data can be downloaded directly from each country page.

EDU20C is a project of the Human Capital Data Lab at the Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU), Vienna Institute of Demography (Austrian Academy of Sciences). The project received funding from the Anniversary Fund of the City of Vienna for the Austrian Academy of Sciences (2014).

The EDU20C project is embedded in the efforts of the Wittgenstein Centre to create a globally consistent and comprehensive database on education. Data about the results of population projections by educational attainment for 185 countries are available at the Wittgenstein Centre Data explorer, Version 2.0 (coming winter 2017–2018).


This research project would not have been possible without the support of many individuals at various institutions. We are grateful for all their contributions.


Bauer, Ramon, Michaela Potančoková, Anne Goujon and Samir K.C. (2012) Populations for 171 Countries by Age, Sex, and Level of Education around 2010: Harmonized Estimates of the Baseline Data for the Wittgenstein Centre Projections. IIASA Interim Report IR-12-016, IIASA: Laxenburg.

European Commission (2010) Europe 2020 – A European Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth. Communication from the Commission. European Commission: Brussels.

Goujon, Anne, Samir K.C., Markus Speringer, Bilal Barakat, Michaela Potancoková, Jakob Eder, Erich Striessnig, Ramon Bauer and Wolfgang Lutz (2016) A harmonized dataset on global educational attainment between 1970 and 2060 – An analytical window into recent trends and future prospects in human capital development. Journal of Demographic Economics 82(3): 315-363. 

Lutz, Wolfgang, Anne Goujon, Samir KC and Warren C. Sanderson (2007) Reconstruction of Populations by Age, Sex and Level of Educational Attainment for 120 Countries for 1970-2000. Vienna Yearbook of Population Research 2007: 193–235.

Lutz, Wolfgang, William P. Butz and Samir KC [Eds] (2014) World Population and Human Capital in the 21st Century. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Potančoková, Michaela, Samir K.C. and Anne Goujon (2014) Global Estimates of Mean Years of Schooling: A New Methodology. IIASA Interim Report IR-14-005, IIASA: Laxenburg. 

Potančoková, Michaela, Sandra Jurasszovich, Markus Speringer and Anne Goujon (forthcoming). Populations for 185 Countries by Age, Sex, and Level of Education around 2015: Harmonized Estimates of the Baseline Data for the Wittgenstein Centre Projections 2.0. IIASA Interim Report, IIASA: Laxenburg.

Roth, Felix and Anna-Elisabeth Thum (2010) The Key Role of Education in the Europe 2020 Strategy. CEPS Working Document No. 338/October 2010. Centre for European Policy Studies: Brussels.

Speringer, Markus, Anne Goujon, Samir K.C., Jakob Eder, Michaela Potančoková and Ramon Bauer (2015) Validation of the Wittgenstein Centre Back-projections for Populations by Age, Sex, and Six Levels of Education from 2010 to 1970. IIASA Interim Report IR-15-008, IIASA: Laxenburg.

Speringer, Markus, Sandra Jurasszovich, Ramon Bauer, Anne Goujon and Samir K.C. (forthcoming). Reconstruction of Educational Attainment in the 20th Century: Data and Methods. VID Working Paper, VID: Vienna.

UNESCO (2015) How Long Will It Take to Achieve Universal Primary and Secondary Education? Technical Background Note for the Framework for Action on the Post-2015 Education Agenda. EFA Global Monitoring Report. UNESCO: Paris.

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision. New York.