Population size
Mean years of schooling
Population 25 years and older
Gender gap in mean years of schooling
Male advantage, population 25 years and older
Universal lower secondary education reached in
Year 90% of 30-34 years old have at least lower secondary

Educational attainment

Canada 1900–2010, population 25 years and older

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Population by age, sex and education

Canada 1900–2010

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Main Findings

In 1900, only 3.1% of the Canadian population older than 25 years had received at least lower secondary educationThis proportion increased to 40.3% until 1950 and to 92.8% until 2010. By then, about 59.4% of the population aged 25 years or older finished a post-secondary education while 7.2% had primary education or less as their highest educational attainment. Mean years of schooling of the population 25 years or older increased from 2.8 years in 1900 to 6.1 years in 1950 and to 12.2 years in 2010.

Gender and Age

In Canada, gender differences in educational attainment have been more or less diminished during the 20th century. In 1900, 4.3% of the men aged 25 years and older had at least lower secondary education, compared to 1.8% of the women. By 1950 about 55.6% of the men and 57.9% of the women aged 30 to 34 years had achieved at least lower secondary education while for instance this share was only 18.1% and 11.1% for the population aged 65–69. Completed lower secondary education became universal for men (91.1%) and for women (92.2%) by 1980. Since 1995, there has been an inverse gender gap in higher education, with larger proportions of women completing post-secondary education than men. In 2010, about 74.6% of women in the 30–34 age group had post-secondary educational attainment, compared to 66.2% of men.

About the Data

The EDU20C estimates of the population of Canada by age, sex and education are based on several census datasets dating back to 1901. Canadian censuses provide information on highest educational attainment in decennial intervals for the time since 1941. For the period before 1941, the EDU20C reconstruction relies on literacy data for 1921 and 1931. For Canada, all 6 education categories (aggregated to 4 before 1950) are available in the reconstruction model.


In the first historic census data covering information on education attainment data reliability issues arises from the different educational categorization compared to the current education system. For Canada it was necessary to generate life tables for missing data-points by interpolating/extrapolating life expectancies at birth by sex. The model fits a logistic function to existing life expectancies at birth, given the values of upper and lower asymptotes. Based on these estimated life expectancies we use a function that interpolates the logarithms of the probabilities of dying (nqx) from two life tables to generate a comprehensive set of life tables for the entire reconstruction period. Both R functions are in their methodological core based on the Population Analysis System (PAS) Excel templates E0LGST and INTPLTF/INTPLTM. Additionally, some historical source data on the population structure were only available for insufficient large open-ended age groups (e.g. 85+ years from 1900 to 1950), what required an age structure extension to 100+ years based on Lx information from the life tables. Furthermore, it was necessary to interpolate the intercensal data-points for population by age and sex using a linear interpolation function.

Source Data

For Canada the major source of data on population by age, sex and educational attainment in the 20th century originates from the digitised archive of the Canadian National Statistical Office/INE. For the EDU20C reconstruction, we also used information on mortality extracted from the life tables available in the Human Mortality Database (HMD) and Human Life-Table Database (HLD).

Did you know?
In 2010, mean years of schooling in Canada (12.2) are similar to the USA (11.9 years), and  Japan (11.8).