The level of education of immigrants and natives is positively correlated within countries, i.e. in general countries with better educated natives are also hosting better educated immigrants (see Figure 1). For instance, Ireland had the highest share of tertiary educated migrants in the EU (61%), and also one the highest share of tertiary eucated natives (50%). Conversely, Italy had the lowest share of immigrants with university education (13%), and the second lowest share of natives with a tertiary degree (22%), followed only by Romania.
In most EU countries, the proportion of immigrants with a tertiary education increased over the span of ten years. We show this in Figure 2, which displays the shares of foreign-born individuals with a completed tertiary education in 2012 and 2022. Across the EU as a whole, the share of tertiary educated immigrants increased from 24% to 31% (over the same period the corresponding share for natives increased even more, from 27% to 35%). Romania stands out as an exception, experiencing a decline of 20 percentage points in the share of immigrants who obtained a higher education degree between 2012 and 2022. Italy is also unique in that the share of tertiary educated immigrants increased by just 0.6 percentage points over the last decade. Among the countries with notable improvements, Austria recorded the highest relative increase, with the proportion of educated immigrants rising by 16 percentage points, on par with the native population. Likewise, Latvia observed a significant rise of 16 percentage points in the proportion of educated immigrants, reflecting a 60% increase compared to the share recorded in 2012.
Female immigrants are consistently better educated than men. Figure 3 presents the education gender gaps, i.e., the share of educated men minus the share of educated women, in the EU countries. Estonia is the country with the largest gender gap: 53% of the female immigrants have a tertiary education, while only 33% of the male immigrants do so. Estonia also has the largest native gender gap in higher education attainment across all EU-countries. In most countries, and on average across the EU, the difference between the education of women and men is bigger for natives than for immigrants. Though native women are, on average, less educated than native men in Germany and Austria, immigrant women are still more likely to have a higher education degree than their male counterparts in both of these countries.
The shares of tertiary educated immigrants and natives have increased over the years, as we show in Figure 4. On average, both native and foreign-born women tend to be more educated than their male counterparts, and this gender gap has been increasing over time, though at a faster pace for natives than for immigrants. In the European Union, between 2012 and 2022, the difference between the share of tertiary educated immigrant women and men increased by 1.4 percentage point, but it grew by 3.4 percentage points among natives during the same period.
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- Data source: Eurostat (EDAT_LFS_9912).
- Immigrants are defined as individuals born in another country than the one they are living in.
- Our sample consists of individuals aged between 25 and 64 in the EU-27. Note that Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia are not included in Figure 3 due to missing data.
- Individuals who completed tertiary education have successfully obtained a degree or equivalent qualification from a college, university, or other post-secondary educational institution.
- The gender gap in education in country c at time t presented in Figure 3 is calculated as follows: share of men with a tertiary educationct – share of women with a tertiary educationct.
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