United States of America

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

United States 1900–2010, population 25 years and older

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Population by age, sex and education

United States 1900–2010

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Main Findings

In 1900, only 18.5% of the US population older than 25 years had received at least lower secondary education. This proportion increased to 50.8% until 1950 and to 93.8% until 2010. By then, about 35.5% of the population aged 25 years or older finished a post-secondary education while 6.2% had primary education or less as their highest educational attainment. Mean years of schooling of the population 25 years or older increased from 4.1 years in 1900 to 6.8 years in 1950 and to 11.9 years in 2010.

Gender and Age

In the United States, gender differences in educational attainment have been more or less diminished during the 20th century. Interestingly in the US, the gender imbalance has rather been in favour of women. In 1900, 15.0% of the men aged 25 years and older had at least lower secondary education, compared to about 22.3% of the women. By 1950 about 66.8% of the men and 70.7% of the women aged 30 to 34 years had achieved at least lower secondary education while for instance this share was 25.4% and 32.1% for the population aged 65–69. Completed lower secondary education became universal for women by 1970 (90.1%), it took five more years for men in the US to attain universality (1975: 92.0%). Since 1990, there has been an inverse gender gap in higher education, with larger proportions of women completing post-secondary education than men. In 2010, about 45.7% of women in the 30–34 age group had post-secondary educational attainment, compared to 36.3% of men. 

About the Data

The EDU20C estimates of the population of the United States by age, sex and education are based on several census datasets dating back to 1900. US censuses provide information on highest educational attainment in decennial intervals for the time since 1940. For the period before 1940, the EDU20C reconstruction relies on literacy data for 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930. For the United States, all 6 education categories (aggregated to 4 before 1950) are available in the reconstruction model.


In the United States we have in general a good and comprehensive data situation that doesn’t require any data preparations. 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 the United States the major source of data on population by age, sex and educational attainment in the 20th century originates from IPUMS and the US Census Bureau/USCB. For the EDU20C reconstruction, we also used information on mortality extracted from the life tables available in the Human Life-table Database (HLD) and the Human Mortality Database (HMD).

Did you know?
Universal lower secondary education in the United States of America was reached at the same time as in Japan – namely in 1975.