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The Daily

The Daily. Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Youth in Transition Survey


Canada's high school dropout rate - the proportion of 20-year-olds that has not completed high school and is not working towards its completion - fell sharply throughout the 1990s, according to data from the Youth in Transition Survey.

In December 1999, the high school dropout rate stood at 12%, down one-third from an estimated 18% in 1991, the last time comparable data were collected.

The 12% national rate represents an estimated 48,400 men and women aged 20. Among 20-year-olds, the majority, 85%, had completed the requirements for secondary graduation, and a small fraction, 3%, was still working toward a high school diploma in December 1999.

The Youth in Transition Survey paints a statistical portrait of young people aged 18 to 20 at a critical juncture as they move from school into postsecondary education and the labour force. A comparison with the 1991 School Leavers Survey shows that the rate for men fell from 22% in 1991 to 15% as of December 1999. The rate for women declined from 14% to about 9%.

The rate fell in every province, and in most cases the decline was substantial. The largest reduction occurred in New Brunswick, where the rate fell from 20% to just under 8%. Saskatchewan had the lowest high school dropout rate in 1999, just over 7%.

High school dropout rates for 20-year-olds

1991 and 1999

Province when last in high school School Leavers Survey 1991 Youth in Transition Survey 1999
  Total Men Women Total Men Women
Canada 18 22 14 12 15 9
Newfoundland and Labrador 24 29 19 11 15 6
Prince Edward Island 25 33 17 16 22 9
Nova Scotia 22 29 13 10 15 5
New Brunswick 20 23 16 8 12 4
Quebec 22 26 18 16 20 12
Ontario 17 22 10 10 11 8
Manitoba 19 20 18 15 16 14
Saskatchewan 16 16 16 7 10 5
Alberta 14 16 12 13 14 11
British Columbia 16 17 14 13 17 9
Note:The high school dropout rate is the percentage of 20-year-olds who have not completed high school and are no longer in school.

A strength of Canada's secondary education system is that it affords a second chance to dropouts. The high school dropout rate was calculated for youth aged 20 to include those who were participating in the "second chance system" and, as a result, were continuing their education after the typical graduation age of 18 (17 in Quebec).


Note to readers

This report provides the first results from the 18- to 20-year-old cohort of the Youth in Transition Survey, a new longitudinal survey undertaken jointly by Statistics Canada and Human Resources Development Canada.

The survey is designed to examine key transitions in the lives of young people as they move from high school to postsecondary education, and from schooling to the labour market. This release examines where youth (18 to 20 years old) stand in both their participation in education and attainment, as well as their labour market participation as of December 1999.

This report draws on data from the survey's first cycle, conducted from January to April 2000. More than 22,000 young people aged 18 to 20 in the 10 provinces participated. Further information from the survey will be released in May.

In addition to the survey of 18- to 20-year olds, the Youth in Transition Survey also collected information from a cohort of 15-year-olds in the spring of 2000. These youth were also involved in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Initial data from this cohort were released December 4, 2001 in Measuring up: The performance of Canada's youth in reading, mathematics and science (81-590-XIE).

Youth from both the 15-year-old and 18- to 20-year-old cohorts will be surveyed again in 2002, and asked about changes in their family situation, participation in education and labour market activity.

The high school dropout rate is the percentage of the population that has not completed high school and is not working toward its completion. This dropout rate is sometimes referred to as the high school leaver rate.

The high school completion rate is the percentage of the population that has already completed high school.

High school completion rates cannot be used to calculate dropout rates because they do not account for students who are still in high school. For example, according to the Youth in Transition Survey, 3% of 20-year-olds and 8% of 19-year-olds were still working toward their high school diploma in December 1999.


In future cycles, the Youth in Transition Survey will be able to identify what happens to the current dropouts. How many of them are able to obtain high school certification later? How many eventually pursue postsecondary education? How do they fare in the labour market compared with high school graduates?

The survey's findings are in line with other nationally representative data on high school dropout rates among the youth population. Data from the Labour Force Survey on a slightly older group of youth, those aged 20 to 24, show that the high school dropout rate fell from 16% in 1991 to 12% in 1999.

Poor academic performance only one reason for dropping out

Poor academic performance was only one characteristic of youth aged 18 to 20 who had dropped out of high school; the Youth in Transition Survey found that dropouts shared various qualities.

On average, high school dropouts had lower grades than graduates. Male dropouts, in particular, were more likely to have achieved low grades and to have repeated a grade in elementary school. Nevertheless, low grades were not the sole reason for dropping out; 47% of all leavers obtained a B average or better.

Compared with graduates, dropouts were less engaged in school, both academically and socially. They were less likely to have had close friends who pursued further education past high school, and were more likely to have engaged in such behaviours as skipping class, drinking alcohol regularly and using drugs frequently.

While school-related factors dominated as reasons for failing to complete high school, there were other contributing factors. For example, some young men reported that they just wanted to work; some young women cited pregnancy and child-rearing.

Family background influences high school completion

Although the majority of both high school graduates and dropouts lived in a two-parent family during high school, a greater percentage of dropouts (32%) than graduates (16%) lived with a single parent. Dropouts were also three times as likely as graduates to have parents who had not finished high school (27% versus 9%).

Mothers and fathers of high school graduates were more likely than those of dropouts to work in management, business, finance, government, art, culture or science-related occupations. Such occupations generally require more education, and also typically provide greater economic rewards.

Most youth pursue postsecondary education

While the proportion of youth who do not complete high school is of significant concern, especially in the context of growing social and economic demand for higher levels of education, it is encouraging that most youth chose to pursue some form of postsecondary education after high school.

Most youth aged 18 to 20 who had graduated from high school and a small proportion who had dropped out of high school had pursued some form of postsecondary education as of December 1999 (70% of graduates and 9% of dropouts).

Most youth aged 18 to 20 who were no longer in high school (52%) were enrolled in a postsecondary program at the time of the survey in 1999 - an estimated 544,000 young men and women. A small proportion, 4%, had graduated from postsecondary education and 6% had dropped out of their postsecondary program prior to completion and had not returned at the time of the survey.

Educational attainment of 18- to 20-year-olds who were no longer in high school

December 1999

Province when last in high school No postsecondary Post-secondary continuing students Post-secondary graduates Post-secondary leavers
Canada 38 52 4 6
Newfoundland and Labrador 33 54 4 8
Prince Edward Island 38 51 7 4
Nova Scotia 30 58 5 8
New Brunswick 37 50 7 5
Quebec 22 62 8 8
Ontario 45 49 2 4
Manitoba 45 44 5 6
Saskatchewan 43 46 5 6
Alberta 50 42 4 5
British Columbia 42 51 4 4

The proportion of youth aged 18 to 20 with some postsecondary experience was highest in Quebec (78%) and Nova Scotia (70%) in December 1999. Alberta (50%) and Manitoba and Ontario (both 55%) had the lowest rates of postsecondary participation.

Women were more likely than men to have pursued postsecondary education after high school-about 68% of women, compared with 57% of men.

Nearly half of postsecondary participants attend college

Close to half of postsecondary participants attended a community college (or CEGEP in Quebec) in their first year. About one-third attended university, and the balance attended a range of other non-university postsecondary institutions such as technical, trade or vocational schools, university colleges or private business or training schools.

Students relied on a wide variety of funding sources during their first year. The most common source was earnings from employment. Compared with postsecondary graduates and postsecondary leavers, higher percentages of current postsecondary students also funded their studies with money from their parents or partner, from scholarships, awards or prizes, from personal savings and from government-sponsored student loans.

Participants in postsecondary education generally had positive attitudes and relationships during their first year. However, postsecondary leavers tended to be much less positive than "continuers" about their academic "fit." Many were unsure of what they wanted to do and were unhappy with their program. This was reflected in apparently counterproductive behaviours such as skipping classes and thinking about dropping out.

Labour market activities of youth

For many youth, the labour market is an alternative to postsecondary education. Even among those who continue their studies after high school, many combine work and study.

Thirty-two percent of young people aged 18 to 20 who were no longer in high school were working full-time in December 1999, and another 41% were working part-time. Just over 26% did not have a job.

The proportion of youth who had a job was among the highest for those who had completed some form of postsecondary education. About 85% of them were working (63% full-time and 22% part-time). Similarly, 85% of high school graduates who were not pursuing postsecondary education had jobs (51% full-time and 34% part-time).

The majority of high school dropouts with no further education were working (59% full-time and 18% part-time). But this group was also the most likely to be without a job (23%).

Most postsecondary students combine work and study. Fifty-four percent worked part-time and 11% worked full-time.

At a Crossroads: First results for the 18- to 20-year-old cohort of the Youth in Transition Survey (81-591-XIE, free) is now available at (), ( and ( A paper version will be available in February. The full data set from the survey will be available in May.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services, (1-800-307-3382; 613-951-7608; fax: 613-951-9040;, Centre for Education Statistics.

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Date Modified: 2002-01-23 Important Notices