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Educational attainment in the United States, 1940-2009

In the United States, the level of education of the adult population has increased steadily since the middle of the 20th century. The share of the population 25 years and over who attended college increased from 10 percent in 1940 to 56 percent in 2009. 30 percent of the population in this age group had completed 4 or more years of college in 2009. The share of the population with only elementary education or no formal schooling fell from 60 percent in 1940 to 6 percent in 2009. High school reached its peak as the most common level of education in the 1970s and 1980s, with a share around 50 percent, but younger cohorts are more likely to continue their education at the post-secondary level.

This increase in educational attainment of the work force has contributed to a strengthening of U.S. competitiveness in the global economy. At the same time, the increased demand for highly skilled workers emphasizes the importance of secondary and higher education for individuals in search of employment.

The trends in years of schooling of the adult U.S. population from 1940 to 2009 are visualized in the figure below. The table that follows lists data for selected years. The data on educational attainment were collected with the Current Population Survey (CPS), a joint survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau that has been conducted since 1940.

Years of school completed by population 25 years and over, 1940-2009
Graph with trends in educational attainment in the United States from 1940 to 2009
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, September 2010

Years of school completed by population 25 years and over, 1940-2009
Years of school Percent of population
1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2009
0 to 4 years elementary school 13.5 10.8 8.3 5.3 3.4 2.4 1.6 1.4
5 to 8 years elementary school 46.0 36.1 31.4 22.4 14.1 8.8 5.4 4.1
1 to 3 years high school 15.0 16.9 19.2 17.1 13.9 11.2 8.9 7.9
4 years high school 14.1 20.1 24.6 34.0 36.8 38.4 33.1 31.1
1 to 3 years college 5.4 7.1 8.8 10.2 14.9 17.9 25.4 26.1
4 or more years college 4.6 6.0 7.7 11.0 17.0 21.3 25.6 29.5
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, September 2010

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Friedrich Huebler, 3 January 2011, Creative Commons License
Permanent URL: http://huebler.blogspot.com/2011/01/usa.html

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