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How Religious Groups Differ in Educational Attainment


Jews have the highest number of years of schooling, on average

Average years of formal schooling

Jews

13.4 years

Christians

9.3

Unaffiliated

8.8

Buddhists

7.9

Muslims

5.6

7.7 years

global avg

Hindus

5.6

Note: Adults ages 25 years and older
as of 2010 (or latest year available).
Source: Pew Research Center analysis.
See Methodology for more details.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

According to a new Pew Research Center global demographic study on differences in educational attainment among the world’s major religious groups, Jews are the most highly educated, with an average of more than 13 years of schooling (among those ages 25 and older). Christians, Buddhists and religiously unaffiliated people – who include atheists, agnostics and those who say their religion is nothing in particular – each have a higher number of years of schooling than the global average (7.7 years), while Muslims and Hindus have the fewest average years of schooling.

An American Jewish boy practices writing the Hebrew alphabet. (Carlos Davila/Getty Images)
An American Jewish boy practices writing the Hebrew alphabet. (Carlos Davila/Getty Images)

These wide disparities in educational attainment are partly a function of geography. For instance, a key reason Jews have such high levels of attainment is that the overwhelming majority live in the United States and Israel – two economically developed countries with high overall levels of education.


Majority of Jews live in highly educated countries

Share of global Jewish adult population

Avg. years of schooling, general adult population

United States

43.4%

12.9 years

Israel

37.5

11.6

Canada

12.8

2.5

United Kingdom

12.2

2.4

Australia

12.3

0.9

Global

9.1 million

7.7

Note: Adults ages 25 years and older in 2010 (or latest year available).
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for more details. “Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Majority of Jews live in highly educated countries

Share of global Jewish adult population

United States

43.4%

Israel

37.5

Canada

2.5

United Kingdom

2.4

Australia

0.9

Global

9.1 million

Avg. years of schooling, general adult population

United States

12.9 years

Israel

11.6

Canada

12.8

United Kingdom

12.2

Australia

12.3

Global

7.7

Note: Adults ages 25 years and older in 2010 (or latest year available).
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for more details. “Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Schoolchildren in India interact via Skype; India is home to most of the world’s Hindus and is a country with low overall education levels. (Niklas Halle’n/Barcroft India/Getty Images)
Schoolchildren in India interact via Skype; India is home to most of the world’s Hindus and is a country with low overall education levels. (Niklas Halle’n/Barcroft India/Getty Images)

Likewise, low levels of educational attainment among Hindus partly stems from their concentration in the three developing countries of India, Nepal and Bangladesh, which are home to 98% of the world’s 527 million Hindu adults.


Majority of Hindus live in countries with low levels of educational attainment

Share of global Hindu adult population

Avg. years of schooling, general adult population

India

94.3%

5.4 years

Nepal

3.5

2.0

Bangladesh

4.0

1.3

Indonesia

8.0

0.5

United States

12.9

0.2

Global

527 million

7.7

Data for adults ages 25 years and older in 2010 (or latest year available).
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for more details.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Majority of Hindus live in countries with low levels of educational attainment

Share of global Hindu adult population

India

94.3%

Nepal

2.0

Bangladesh

1.3

Indonesia

0.5

United States

0.2

Global

522 million

Average years of schooling,

general adult population

India

5.4 years

Nepal

3.5

4.0

Bangladesh

8.0

Indonesia

12.9

United States

7.7

Global

Data for adults ages 25 years and older in 2010 (or latest year available).
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for more details.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Nigerian refugee children attend classes in a UN Refugee Agency camp in Cameroon, one of several sub-Saharan Africa countries that have large attainment gaps between Muslims and Christians. (Reinnier Kaze/AFP/Getty Images)
Nigerian refugee children attend classes in a UN Refugee Agency camp in Cameroon, one of several sub-Saharan Africa countries that have large attainment gaps between Muslims and Christians. (Reinnier Kaze/AFP/Getty Images)

Large education gaps in sub-Saharan Africa

But the new study also finds important, and often large, differences in educational attainment between religious groups living in the same region – and even the same country.

One of the most striking findings is the large and widespread gap in educational attainment between Muslims and Christians in sub-Saharan Africa. Muslims are more than twice as likely as Christians in the region to have no formal schooling – 65% of Muslims and 30% of Christians have no formal education, a 35-point gap. For perspective, the difference between Muslims and Christians in the share with no formal schooling is 3 points in Europe (5% and 2%, respectively) and 25 points in the Asia-Pacific region (32% and 7%).

These large differences between Muslims and Christians are found throughout the region, particularly in countries in western Africa, such as Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon. In 18 of the 27 sub-Saharan African countries with substantial Muslim and Christian populations, Muslims are more likely – by at least 10 percentage points – than their Christian compatriots to lack formal schooling.



Muslim

Christian

Kenya

11%

59%

47pt. diff.

Chad

50

89

40

Cameroon

24

62

38

25

61

Ghana

36

30

65

Regional avg.

35

MALI

Nigeria

26

61

35

CHAD

SENEGAL

39

73

Ivory Coast

BURKINA FASO

34

BENIN

8

40

32

Rep. Congo

NIGERIA

IVORY

COAST

TOGO

ETHIOPIA

8

40

Gabon

32

SIERRA LEONE

CAMEROON

40

68

Senegal

28

LIBERIA

GHANA

UGANDA

50

77

Sierra Leone

27

CONGO

KENYA

GABON

RWANDA

DEM.

REP. OF

THE CONGO

Benin

48

75

27

BURUNDI

24

49

Togo

25

TANZANIA

Malawi

28

49

21

In 18 countries, Muslims are more likely than Christians to have no formal schooling by 10 percentage points or more.

70

87

Burkina Faso

18

MALAWI

Liberia

53

68

15

ZAMBIA

70

83

Ethiopia

13

MADAGASCAR

Mali

67

79

12

MOZAMBIQUE

31

42

Mozambique

9

MAURITIUS

Tanzania

22

26

In five countries, the gap is less than 10 points.

19

20

Zambia

SOUTH

AFRICA

Data not available for both Christians and Muslims

Mauritius

5

5

2

2

Uganda

9

16

D.R. Congo

7

Note: Adults ages 25 years and older as of 2010 (or latest year available). Muslim-Christian differences are calculated based on unrounded numbers. Nine additional countries in sub-Saharan Africa are not shown because of missing education data for either Christians or Muslims.
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for details.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

5

19

South Africa

14

In four countries, Christians are more likely than Muslims to have no formal schooling by 10 points or more.

Rwanda

29

43

14

38

58

Madagascar

20

Burundi

32

55

23

Christian

Muslim

Kenya

11%

59%

47pt. diff.

Chad

50

89

40

Cameroon

24

62

38

Ghana

25

61

36

Regional avg.

30

65

35

Nigeria

26

61

35

MALI

Ivory Coast

39

73

34

CHAD

SENEGAL

8

40

32

Rep. Congo

BURKINA FASO

BENIN

NIGERIA

IVORY

COAST

TOGO

ETHIOPIA

Gabon

8

40

32

SIERRA

LEONE

CAMEROON

Senegal

40

68

28

LIBERIA

GHANA

UGANDA

CONGO

KENYA

GABON

RWANDA

DEM.

REP. OF

THE CONGO

Sierra Leone

50

77

27

BURUNDI

TANZANIA

48

75

Benin

27

In 18 countries, Muslims are more likely than Christians to have no formal schooling by 10 percentage points or more.

Togo

24

49

25

MALAWI

ZAMBIA

28

49

Malawi

21

MADAGASCAR

MOZAMBIQUE

Burkina Faso

70

87

18

MAURITIUS

53

68

Liberia

15

Data not available for both Christians and Muslims

SOUTH

AFRICA

Ethiopia

70

83

13

67

79

Mali

12

Mozambique

31

42

Note: Adults ages 25 years and older as of 2010 (or latest year available). Muslim-Christian differences are calculated based on unrounded numbers. Nine additional countries in sub-Saharan Africa are not shown because of missing education data for either Christians or Muslims.
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for more details.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

22

26

Tanzania

In five countries, the gap is less than 10 points.

Zambia

19

20

5

5

Mauritius

Uganda

2

2

9

16

D.R. Congo

7

South Africa

5

19

In four countries, Christians are more likely than Muslims to have no formal schooling by 10 points or more.

14

29

43

Rwanda

14

Madagascar

38

58

20

32

55

Burundi

23

MALI

CHAD

SENEGAL

BURKINA FASO

BENIN

IVORY

COAST

NIGERIA

ETHIOPIA

TOGO

SIERRA

LEONE

CAMEROON

LIBERIA

GHANA

UGANDA

CONGO

KENYA

GABON

RWANDA

DEM.

REP. OF

THE CONGO

BURUNDI

TANZANIA

Data not available for both Christians and Muslims

MALAWI

ZAMBIA

MADAGASCAR

MOZAMBIQUE

MAURITIUS

SOUTH

AFRICA

Christian

Muslim

Kenya

11%

47pt. diff.

59%

Chad

50

40

89

Cameroon

24

38

62

36

Ghana

25

61

30

65

35

Regional avg.

35

Nigeria

26

61

Ivory Coast

39

34

73

32

Rep. Congo

8

40

32

Gabon

8

40

28

Senegal

40

68

Sierra Leone

50

27

77

27

Benin

48

75

Togo

24

25

49

21

Malawi

28

49

Burkina Faso

70

18

87

15

Liberia

53

68

Ethiopia

70

13

83

12

Mali

67

79

Mozambique

31

42

Tanzania

22

26

Zambia

19

20

Mauritius

5

5

Uganda

2

2

7

D.R. Congo

9

16

South Africa

5

14

19

29

14

Rwanda

43

Madagascar

38

20

58

23

Burundi

32

55

Note: Adults ages 25 years and older as of 2010 (or latest year available). Muslim-Christian differences are calculated based on unrounded numbers. Nine additional countries in sub-Saharan Africa are not shown because of missing education data for either Christians or Muslims.
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for more details.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

The Muslim-Christian education gap in sub-Saharan Africa is found among women and men, and has persisted across recent generations. One example of this is in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, where Christians and Muslims are present in roughly equal numbers. Among the youngest generation of Nigerian adults in the study – those ages 25 to 34 in 2010 – more than four-in-ten Muslim men (42%) and six-in-ten Muslim women (63%) have no formal schooling, compared with fewer than one-in-ten Christian men (8%) and two-in-ten Christian women (19%).


In Nigeria, Muslim-Christian gap in no formal schooling persists across generations, widens among women

% of Muslims and Christian men and women with no formal schooling

Nigerian men

Nigerian women

100%

Muslim women

80

75

18% PT.

68

Muslim men

62

63

50

36% PT. GAP

42

44% PT.

33

25

34% PT.

19

Christian

men

Christian women

8

0

Oldest,

ages

55-74

Middle,

ages

35-54

Oldest,

ages

55-74

Middle,

ages

35-54

Youngest,

ages

25-34

Youngest,

ages

25-34

Note: The oldest, middle, and youngest cohorts were born 1936-1955, 1956-1975, and 1976-1985, respectively, and were ages 55-74, 35-54, and 25-34 as of 2010.
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for more details.
Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

In Nigeria, Muslim-Christian gap in no formal schooling persists across generations, widens among women

% of Muslims and Christian men and women with no formal schooling

Nigerian men

100%

75

68

Muslim men

50

36% PT. GAP

42

33

25

34% PT.

Christian

men

8

0

Oldest,

ages

55-74

Middle,

ages

35-54

Youngest,

ages

25-34

Nigerian women

100%

Muslim women

80

75

18% PT.

62

63

50

44% PT.

25

19

Christian women

0

Oldest,

ages

55-74

Middle,

ages

35-54

Youngest,

ages

25-34

Note: The oldest, middle, and youngest cohorts were born 1936-1955, 1956-1975, and 1976-1985, respectively, and were ages 55-74, 35-54, and 25-34 as of 2010.
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for more details.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

BERKELEY, CA - AUGUST 30: Naeemah Gilchrist (L) works on her computer between classes at Zaytuna College August 30, 2010 in Berkeley, California. Zaytuna College opened its doors on August 24th and hopes to become the first accredited four-year Islamic college in the United States. The school was founded by three Muslim-American scholars and offers degrees in Islamic law, theology and Arabic languages. Fifteen students are enrolled in the inaugural class and the school hopes to increase that number to 2,200 within ten years. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Muslim Americans studying at Zaytuna College in California. Religious minorities in economically developed countries often have higher attainment levels than the majority religious group. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Religious minorities often have high attainment


In U.S., religious minorities more likely to have college degrees than Christian majority

% with higher education, by religion

Hindus

96%

Jews

75

Muslims

54

Buddhists

53

Unaffiliated

44

39% U.S. average

Christians

36

Note: Adults ages 25 years and older as of 2010 (or latest year available).
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for more details.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

The report also finds that religious minorities often have more education, on average, than a country’s majority religious group, particularly when the minority group is largely foreign-born and comes from a distant country.  In these cases, immigrants often were explicitly selected under immigration policies that favor highly-skilled applicants. In addition, it is often the well-educated who manage to overcome the financial and logistical challenges faced by those who wish to leave their homeland for a new, far-off country.

For instance, in the U.S., where Christians make up the majority of the adult population, Hindus and Muslims are much more likely than Christians to have post-secondary degrees. And unlike Christians, large majorities of Hindus and Muslims were born outside the United States (87% of Hindus and 64% of Muslims compared with 14% of Christians, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey).

Gains across generations

The report also shows that the global gaps between the highest- and lowest-attaining groups have been narrowing over time due to large gains by Hindus and Muslims in recent generations. The youngest Hindu adults in the study (those born between 1976 and 1985) have spent an average of 7.1 years in school, almost double the amount of schooling received by the oldest Hindus in the study (those born between 1936 and 1955). The youngest Muslims, Buddhists and religiously unaffiliated adults have made similar gains, receiving approximately three more years of schooling, on average, than older adults in the same groups. Over the same time frame, by contrast, Christians and Jews recorded smaller gains on their already relatively high levels of attainment.


Muslims and Hindus have made the largest gains in educational attainment over decades

Average years of formal schooling, by religious group across three generations

13.8 Jewish

13.4

10.3 Unaffiliated

9.9 Christians

9.7 Buddhists

8.9

8.6 Global average

7.4

7.1 Hindus

7.2

6.6

6.7 Muslims

3.6

3.5

0

Youngest,

ages 25-34

Oldest,

ages 55-74

Middle,

ages 35-54

Note: The oldest, middle, and youngest cohorts were born 1936-1955, 1956-1975, and 1976-1985, respectively, and were ages 55-74, 35-54, and 25-34 as of 2010.
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for more details.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Women make big gains

In addition, women have gained more than men in every major religious group, helping to close longstanding gender gaps in educational attainment. In fact, Christian, Jewish and religiously unaffiliated women in the youngest generation (ages 25 to 34 in 2010) are more likely than their male counterparts to have college degrees.


Three faith groups have seen reversals of the gender gap in higher education

% of men and women with higher education by religious group, across three generations

Jews

Christians

Unaffiliated

75

Men

69

66

12% PT.

59

57

Women

50

25

25

25

21

20

22

13

17

10

0

Oldest,

ages

55-74

Middle,

ages

35-54

Oldest,

ages

55-74

Middle,

ages

35-54

Oldest,

ages

55-74

Middle,

ages

35-54

Youngest,

ages

25-34

Youngest,

ages

25-34

Youngest,

ages

25-34

Note: The oldest, middle, and youngest cohorts were born 1936-1955, 1956-1975, and 1976-1985, respectively, and were ages 55-74, 35-54, and 25-34 as of 2010.
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for more details.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Three faith groups have seen reversals of the gender gap in higher education

% of men and women with higher education by religious group, across three generations

Jews

75%

Men

69

66

12% PT.

59

57

Women

50

25

0

Oldest,

ages

55-74

Middle,

ages

35-54

Youngest,

ages

25-34

Christians

75%

50

25

25

21

20

17

0

Oldest,

ages

55-74

Middle,

ages

35-54

Youngest,

ages

25-34

Unaffiliated

75%

50

25

25

22

13

10

0

Oldest,

ages

55-74

Middle,

ages

35-54

Youngest,

ages

25-34

Note: The oldest, middle, and youngest cohorts were born 1936-1955, 1956-1975, and 1976-1985, respectively, and were ages 55-74, 35-54, and 25-34 as of 2010.
Source: Pew Research Center analysis. See Methodology for more details.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Female students, like these at Dar Al-Hekma University in Saudi Arabia, are part of a surge in post-secondary attainment by women in Gulf Cooperation Council countries. (Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)
Female students, like these at Dar Al-Hekma University in Saudi Arabia, are part of a surge in post-secondary attainment by women in Gulf Cooperation Council countries. (Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)

Some of the biggest gains in higher education have occurred among Muslim women in Gulf Cooperation Council states. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, the share of Muslim women with college degrees has increased tenfold, from 3% in the oldest generation to 35% in the youngest. By comparison, the share of Saudi men with post-secondary degrees has risen by 12 percentage points, from 16% among the oldest generation to 28% among the youngest.


Share of Muslim women in
Gulf states receiving higher education has grown across generations, differs by gender

% with higher education, by gender

Kuwait

Bahrain

Qatar

51%

Qatar

Saudi

Arabia

36

Kuwait

35

Saudi Arabia

34

Qatar

MEN

Saudi Arabia

28

Qatar

27

Kuwait

Kuwait

24

Bahrain

18

WOMEN

Saudi Arabia

16

Qatar

13%

Bahrain

11

Bahrain

9

Kuwait

9

Bahrain

5

Saudi Arabia

3

Oldest

generation

Youngest

generation

Oldest

generation

Youngest

generation

Note: The oldest and youngest cohorts were born 1936-1955, and 1976-1985, respectively, and were ages 55-74 and 25-34 as of 2010. Data for Muslims in these four countries reflect only educational attainment for citizens. See Methodology for more details.
Source: Pew Research Center analysis.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Share of Muslim women in Gulf states receiving higher education has grown across generations, differs by gender

% with higher education, by gender

MEN

34%

Qatar

Saudi Arabia

28

Qatar

27

Kuwait

Kuwait

24

Saudi Arabia

16

Bahrain

11

Bahrain

9

Oldest

generation

Youngest

generation

Qatar

WOMEN

51%

36

Kuwait

35

Saudi Arabia

Bahrain

18

Qatar

13

Kuwait

9

Bahrain

5

Saudi Arabia

3

Oldest

generation

Youngest

generation

Note: The oldest and youngest cohorts were born 1936-1955, and 1976-1985, respectively, and were ages 55-74 and 25-34 as of 2010. Data for Muslims in these four countries reflect only educational attainment for citizens. See Methodology for more details.
Source: Pew Research Center analysis.
“Religion and Education Around the World”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Read the full report, “Religion and Education Around the World.”

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