Statistics Explained

Early leavers from education and training





Data extracted in May 2022.

Planned article update: May 2023.

Highlights

In 2021, 9.7 % of 18-24 year olds in the EU had completed at most a lower secondary education and were not in further education or training (early leavers).
In 2021, 11.4 % of young men and 7.9 % of young women in the EU were early leavers from education and training.
The proportion of early leavers from education and training in the EU in 2021 ranged from 2.4 % in Croatia to 15.3 % in Romania.


EarlyLeaversOp1 IG 23-05-2022.png


This article presents statistics on early leavers from education and training in the European Union (EU) and forms part of an online publication on education and training in the EU. Early leavers are defined as individuals aged 18-24 who have completed at most a lower secondary education and were not in further education or training during the four weeks preceding the labour force survey (LFS). It is important to follow the developments of this group, as early leavers from education and training can face challenges when trying to get established in the labour market. Education has become an increasingly important factor when employers are hiring employees. Leaving education early can also have significant consequences for the individual, as well as for society, in the long term.

The EU set an EU-level target stipulating that the share of early leavers from education and training should be less than 9 % by 2030. In 2021, an average of 9.7 % early leavers from education and training was identified within the EU. However, there were differences between Member States, with several having already met the EU-level target for 2030. The results also varied between women and men as well as between young people living in areas with different degrees of urbanisation, both within countries and between the EU Member States.

Full article

Early leavers from education and training – today and a historical comparison

In 2021, an average of 9.7 % of young people aged 18-24 in the EU were early leavers from education and training. Across EU Member States, the proportion of early leavers in 2021 ranged from 2.4 % in Croatia to 15.3 % in Romania (see Figure 1). The countries with the lowest proportion of early leavers were Croatia, Slovenia, Greece and Ireland where the share was below 5 % (the same was noted for Switzerland). The highest shares were found in Romania (15.3 %), followed by Spain and Italy with around 13 %. There were thus large differences between the EU Member States where 16 countries have already reached the EU-level target for 2030, i.e. their share of early leavers from education and training is already less than 9 %. Switzerland and Serbia also reached a level less than 9 %.

The overall share of early leavers from education and training fell in the EU by 3.5 percentage points (pp.) between 2011 and 2021. Among EU Member States, the largest reductions (in percentage point terms) between 2011 and 2021 were observed in Portugal (-17.1 pp.) and Spain (-13.0 pp.). There are also eight Member States that saw increases in the share of early leavers; among these, the countries with an increase that exceeded 1 pp. were Luxembourg, Slovakia, Sweden and Czechia.

Figure 1: Early leavers from education and training, 2011 and 2021
(% of population aged 18-24)
Source: Eurostat (edat_lfse_14)

A higher proportion of early leavers are men – analysis by sex

The proportion of early leavers from education and training was 3.5 pp. higher for young men (11.4 %) than for young women (7.9 %) in the EU in 2021, see Figure 2. Nearly all EU Member States reported a higher proportion of early leavers for young men than for young women, with a particularly large difference, 7.0 pp., in Spain; similarly large differences were also seen in two non-member countries, in Iceland (10.7 pp.) and Norway (6.0 pp.). In contrast, there were two exceptions among the Member States, as the proportion of early leavers was lower for young men than for young women in Bulgaria (1.4 pp.) and Romania (0.4 pp.).

Figure 2: Early leavers from education and training by sex, 2021
(% of population aged 18-24)
Source: Eurostat (edat_lfse_14)

While in the EU the overall proportion of early leavers fell between 2011 and 2021 by 3.5 pp., the proportion for young men and for young women fell by 3.8 and 3.2 pp. respectively. As a consequence, the gender gap narrowed slightly from 4.1 pp. in 2011 to 3.5 pp. in 2021, see Figures 3 and 4.

Between 2011 and 2021, nearly all EU Member States reported a fall in the proportion of early leavers among young men. However, seven countries reported increases: 0.3 pp. in Bulgaria, 0.6 pp. in Austria, 1.0 pp. in Germany, 1.6 pp. in Czechia, 2.4 pp. in Sweden, 2.7 pp. in Slovakia and 2.8 pp. in Luxembourg. Conversely, the largest decrease of early leavers among young men was found in Portugal (-20.4 pp.), followed by Spain, Greece and Malta with reductions of more than 10.0 pp. compared to 2011.

Among young women, a broadly similar situation was observed. Eight EU Member States reported a higher proportion of young women who were early leavers in 2021 than in 2011: Denmark (0.1 pp.), Bulgaria (0.3 pp.), Poland (0.7 pp.), Hungary (1.0 pp.), Sweden (1.1 pp.), Czechia (1.4 pp.), Slovakia (2.9 pp.) and Luxembourg (3.3 pp.). Portugal again recorded the largest fall in the proportion of early school leavers, down 13.6 pp. between 2011 and 2021 for young women. Except for Spain (with a decrease of 11.8 pp.), none of the other Member States recorded a fall that exceeded 10.0 pp.

Figure 3: Early leavers from education and training, young men, 2011 and 2021
(% of young men aged 18-24)
Source: Eurostat (edat_lfse_14)


Figure 4: Early leavers from education and training, young women, 2011 and 2021
(% of young women aged 18-24)
Source: Eurostat (edat_lfse_14)

Do early leavers have a job? Analysis by the individual’s labour status

Early leavers from education and training may face challenges when trying to enter the labour market. Figure 5 presents an analysis of whether early leavers are employed or not, ranking the EU Member States according to the share of employed early leavers. In 2021 the distribution between different labour market outcomes was as follows: 42.3 % of all early leavers were in employment, while 34.0 % were not employed but wanted to work, and the remaining 23.7 % were not employed and did not want to work. In relation to the population aged 18-24, this corresponded to 4.1 % of employed early leavers, 3.3 % of early leavers who were not employed and wanted to work and 2.3 % of early leavers who were not employed and did not want to work.

Figure 5: Distribution of early leavers from education and training by labour status, 2021
(% of early leavers aged 18-24)
Source: Eurostat (edat_lfse_14)


Table 1: Early leavers from education and training aged 18-24 by sex and labour status, 2021
(% of population aged 18-24)
Source: Eurostat (edat_lfse_14)

In 2021, four EU Member States reported more early leavers not employed but wanting to work than early leavers who were employed. The biggest gap, of 2.1 pp., was recorded in Slovakia, where the share of early leavers who were employed stood at 1.0 % of the population 18-24, compared with a 3.1 % share of early leavers who were not employed but wanted to work. Further, Italy, France and Greece recorded a gap between these two shares that was between 0.2 and 1.6 pp. The same was true for Switzerland that recorded a difference of 0.2 pp. In 20 Member States the reverse situation was observed, namely that there were more early leavers who were employed than early leavers not employed but wanting to work. The most notable cases being Malta, Cyprus and Denmark; this was also the case for two of the non-member countries Iceland and Norway, see Table 1.

Does it matter where you live? Analysis by degree of urbanisation

Figure 6 presents an analysis of the proportion of early leavers from education and training according to the degree of urbanisation, with regions classified as cities, towns and suburbs, or rural areas. In 2021, the lowest proportion of early leavers in the EU was reported in cities (8.7 %). Thus the target for 2030, namely that the share of early leavers should be less than 9 %, is already achieved among youths who live in cities. In the towns and suburbs of the EU, the proportion of early leavers amounted to 10.7 %, while it was lower in rural areas, at 10.0 %.

Figure 6: Early leavers from education and training by degree of urbanisation, 2021
(% of population aged 18-24)
Source: Eurostat (edat_lfse_30)

Data sources

The EU labour force survey (LFS) provides statistics on early leavers. The LFS is documented in this background article which provides information on the scope of the data, its legal basis, the methodology employed, as well as related concepts and definitions. Data on early leavers are calculated as annual averages of quarterly data.

Classification for education

The International standard classification of education (ISCED) is the basis for international education statistics, describing different levels of education; it was first developed in 1976 by UNESCO and revised in 1997 and again in 2011. ISCED 2011 differentiates nine levels of education: early childhood education (level 0); primary education (level 1); lower secondary education (level 2); upper secondary education (level 3); post-secondary non-tertiary education (level 4); short-cycle tertiary education (level 5); bachelor’s or equivalent level (level 6); master’s or equivalent level (level 7); doctoral or equivalent level (level 8).

The first EU-LFS results based on ISCED 2011 were published in 2015 starting with data for 2014 (the reference period). Data up to 2013 are based on ISCED 1997.

Key concepts

Early leavers from education and training denotes the percentage of the population aged 18-24 having attained at most lower secondary education and not being involved in further education or training.

  • The numerator of the indicator refers to persons aged 18-24 who meet the following two conditions: (a) the highest level of education or training they have completed is ISCED 2011 levels 0, 1 or 2 (ISCED 1997 levels 0, 1, 2 or 3C short) and (b) they have not received any education or training (in other words neither formal nor non-formal) in the four weeks preceding the survey.
  • The denominator is the total population of the same age group, excluding respondents who did not answer the questions ‘highest level of education or training successfully completed’ and ‘participation in education and training’.

Tables in this article use the following notation: ':' not available, confidential or unreliable value.

Context

Tackling early leavers

Most Europeans spend significantly more time in education than the legal minimum requirement. This reflects the choice to enrol in higher education, as well as increased enrolment in pre-primary education and wider participation in lifelong learning initiatives. Nevertheless, around one in ten young adults leave school or training early and this has an impact on the individuals, society and economies.

EEA 2030 strategic framework

A Resolution on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (known as EEA 2030) was agreed by the Council in February 2021. It outlines five strategic priorities for the period 2021-2030: improving quality, equity, inclusion and success for all in education and training; making lifelong learning and mobility a reality for all; enhancing competences and motivation in the education profession; reinforcing European higher education; and supporting the green and digital transitions in and through education and training. For monitoring progress, seven EU-level targets, i.e. reference levels of European average performance, have been defined, including that the share of early leavers from education and training should be less than 9 %, by 2030.

The indicator early leavers from education and training is also used to reflect the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights and to monitor the Sustainable Development Goals.

Already in January 2011, the European Commission adopted a Communication titled ‘Tackling early school leaving: a key contribution to the Europe 2020 agenda’ (COM(2011) 18 final). This Communication included information regarding why youths decide to leave school early. It was observed that the reasons why young people leave education and training early is highly individual. Though some reasons have been identified as to why youths are early leavers – it can be that the individuals have learning difficulties, lack of motivation, guidance or support; social factors also can play a role. Further, the Communication gave an overview of existing and planned measures to tackle this challenge across the member countries within the EU.

In 2014, the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency and the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) jointly released a report on Tackling early leaving from education and training in Europe: strategies, policies and measures. In this report detailed information can be found regarding the challenges connected to early leavers as well as how the phenomenon should be tackled. CEDEFOP also provided an online VET toolkit for tackling early leaving which offers support to policy makers and practitioners in order to design and implement policies to prevent and remedy early leaving from education and training.

Direct access to

Other articles
Tables
Database
Dedicated section
Publications
Methodology
Visualisations




Education and training outcomes (educ_outc)
Transition from education to work (edatt)
Early leavers from education and training (edatt1)

Metadata

Manuals and other methodological information