December 13, 2016

Religion and Education Around the World

5. Hindu educational attainment

Hindus have made substantial educational gains in recent decades. Hindu adults (ages 25 and older) in the youngest generation analyzed in the study, for example, have an average of 3.4 more years of schooling than those in the oldest generation.

However, Hindus still have the lowest level of educational attainment of any major religious group in this study. Globally, they average 5.6 years of schooling, and 41% of Hindus have no formal education of any kind. One-in-ten have post-secondary degrees.

In addition, despite large gains by Hindu women across generations, Hindus still have the largest educational gender gap of any religious group. On average, Hindu men have 2.7 more years of schooling than Hindu women, and just over half of Hindu women (53%) have no formal schooling, compared with 29% of Hindu men. Even in the youngest generation of adults in the study, Hindu women are considerably more likely than Hindu men to have received no formal education (38% vs. 20%).

The vast majority of the world’s Hindus live in India (94%) or in the bordering countries of Nepal (2.3%) and Bangladesh (1.2%). In these three countries, Hindus tend to have low levels of education; in India, Hindus average 5.5 years of schooling, while in Nepal and Bangladesh they average 3.9 and 4.6 years, respectively.

However, in countries outside the Asia-Pacific region, where Hindus are a small religious minority, they are much more highly educated – and often are the most highly educated religious group in a particular country. For instance, Hindus in the United States have 15.7 years of schooling, on average – a full year more than the next most highly educated U.S. religious group (Jews), and nearly three years more than the average American adult (12.9 years). Hindus in Europe also are highly educated, averaging 13.9 years of schooling.

In Hindu-majority India, 59% of Hindus have at least some formal schooling. By contrast, nearly all Hindus in North America, Europe and the Latin America-Caribbean region have received at least some schooling. In addition, in sub-Saharan Africa, 93% of Hindus have at least some formal schooling – far higher than the share of non-Hindus in sub-Saharan Africa with some education (59%).

Similarly, levels of higher education among Hindus vary widely around the world. One-in-ten Hindus in the Asia-Pacific region have post-secondary degrees (including 10% in India and 6% in the region’s other countries). But in North America and Europe, majorities of Hindus (87% and 57%, respectively) have a post-secondary education.

The educational gender gap among Hindus is larger than that of any other religious group. Worldwide, Hindu men have an average of 6.9 years of schooling, compared with 4.2 years for Hindu women. Just over half of Hindu women (53%) have no formal education, compared with 29% of Hindu men. The gender gap in higher education is narrower, but Hindu men are still nearly twice as likely as women to have post-secondary degrees (13% vs. 7%).

Outside the Asia-Pacific region, however, gender gaps among Hindus are narrower. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, Hindu men and women have nearly the same number of years of schooling, on average, and similar shares have higher education. And in North America, Hindu men average less than a year more schooling than women, while large majorities of both men and women have a post-secondary education (92% and 80%, respectively). In Europe, the pattern is similar to that seen in North America.

Hindus make gains in educational attainment across generations, but still trail other groups

Hindus, starting from a relatively low base, have made some of the most rapid educational gains of any religious group. Across the three generations in this study, Hindus have gained an average of nearly 3.4 additional years of schooling. The largest increase has taken place among Hindus in sub-Saharan Africa, where the youngest generation in the study has 10.2 years of schooling, on average, compared with 5.6 years of schooling for the oldest generation.

Hindu adults worldwide also have made large gains in the share that have some formal schooling – especially in the Asia-Pacific region, where the overwhelming majority of Hindus live. The share of Hindus in this region with no formal education has dropped dramatically, from 57% in the oldest generation (born 1936 to 1955) to 29% in the youngest (born 1976 to 1985). In all other regions, nearly universal shares of those in the youngest generation of Hindus have at least some basic education.

The share of Hindus with post-secondary degrees has increased steadily across generations at the global level, from 6% in the oldest generation to 14% in the youngest. In Europe, higher education among Hindus has expanded at a much faster pace, increasing by more than 30 percentage points across generations (from 41% among the oldest to 74% among the youngest). In the United States, more than 95% of Hindus in all three generations have post-secondary degrees.

Sidebar: In India, religious differences in acquiring formal education have narrowed but remain large

India is home to 94% of the world’s Hindus, who make up nearly 80% of the country’s population. The second most populous country in the world, India is rich in religious diversity, with large minority populations of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists. In fact, by 2050, India is projected to have the biggest Muslim population – some 311 million – of any country.

Educational attainment has been increasing rapidly for all religious groups in India in recent decades. But there are notable differences among the groups, especially in the share of those who have some formal education. Around six-in-ten Hindu and Buddhist adults (ages 25 and older) in India have at least some formal schooling, compared with half of Muslims and 85% of Christians.

These educational differences have narrowed across generations as Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims make more rapid progress than Christians. For example, in the oldest generation in the study, there was a 37-point difference between Christians and Hindus in the shares with at least some formal schooling (80% among Christians vs. 43% among Hindus); among the youngest generation, that gap has shrunk to just 18 points (89% vs. 71%).

However, the gap between India’s two largest religious groups, Hindus and Muslims, in the share of those who have some formal schooling has widened slightly across generations. Among those in the oldest generation, 43% of Hindus and 36% of Muslims have at least some formal schooling, a gap of 7 percentage points. But in the youngest generation, that gap has grown to 11 percentage points as Hindus have made more rapid gains than Muslims. Among the youngest Hindus in the study, 71% have at least some formal schooling, compared with 60% of the youngest Muslims.

The widening of the Hindu-Muslim education gap is primarily a result of differences in men’s attainment. The gap between the share of Hindu and Muslim men with at least some basic education grew from 9 points in the oldest generation (59% vs. 50%) to 14 points in the youngest (80% vs. 66%). But among women, the Hindu-Muslim gap was 6 percentage points in the youngest and oldest cohorts.

Hindu women are gaining on men in attainment, but large gender gaps persist

Hindu women have made larger generational gains than men by most measures of educational attainment. The youngest Hindu women in the study have nearly four more years of schooling than the oldest Hindu women (5.9 years vs. 2.1 years, on average). In the same time period, Hindu men gained three years of schooling. As a result, the gender gap in average years of schooling decreased from 3.1 years to 2.2 years across generations.

Still, even among those in the youngest generation, Hindus continue to have the largest gender gap in average years of schooling of any major religious group.

Outside the Asia-Pacific region, however, Hindu women have reached parity with men in average years of schooling. In Europe, the gender gap shrank from 1.5 years among the oldest generation of Hindus to virtually no gap among the youngest. And in sub-Saharan Africa, the oldest Hindu women lag behind men by an average of 3.4 years of schooling, but the youngest Hindu women are more educated than their male peers by nearly half a year, on average.

The share of Hindu women with at least some formal education has increased dramatically across generations. Among the oldest generation, fewer than three-in-ten Hindu women have any schooling (28%). But among the youngest generation, the share with at least some formal education has more than doubled to 62%. Despite these gains, the gender gap remains substantial among the youngest Hindus; men in this age cohort are considerably more likely than women to have at least some basic education (80% vs. 62%). Effectively, this means that in the youngest generation of Hindu women, there are 31 million who have no formal education – which is 13 million more women than men in the same cohort.

Among Hindus globally, there has been little change in the gender gap in higher education across generations. The share of Hindu men with post-secondary degrees increased from 9% among the oldest generation to 17% among the youngest, while the share of women with degrees increased from 3% to 11%.

Outside the Asia-Pacific region, however, gains by the youngest Hindu women have closed the gender gap in higher education in nearly every region. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for instance, the youngest Hindu women are more likely than men to have post-secondary degrees by 5 percentage points.