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Study: Are the Career Prospects of Postsecondary Graduates Improving?

Released: 2019-01-23

The share of young Canadians with a postsecondary credential has increased steadily over the past three decades. In 1990, 41.0% of 25-year-old men and 46.1% of 25-year-old women held a postsecondary credential. By 2016, these numbers had risen to 60.1% for 25-year-old men and 73.7% for 25-year-old women. While a postsecondary education may be needed to compete in an increasingly knowledge-based, automated economy, the large increase in the supply of graduates raises questions about their labour market prospects.

A new study by Statistics Canada examines the long-term labour market outcomes of two cohorts of postsecondary graduates observed over a 15-year period. The 2001 cohort consisted of 26- to 35-year-olds in 2001 who were followed until 2015 (when they were 40 to 49 years old). Their labour market outcomes were compared with those of the 1991 cohort, who were 26- to 35-year-olds in 1991, and were followed until 2005 (when they were 40 to 49 years old). The data were drawn from the 1991 and 2001 Censuses and the 1991 to 2015 T1 personal master files. All earnings data are expressed in 2015 constant dollars.

The cumulative earnings of postsecondary graduates were greater among the more recent cohort, even when comparing similar points in the business cycle. This was the case for male and female postsecondary graduates at all levels and across most major disciplines where sample sizes were large enough to permit analysis.

For example, the median cumulative earnings of 26- to 35-year-old women who held a bachelor's degree in 2001 was $816,000 from 2001 to 2015. In contrast, their counterparts from the 1991 cohort earned $729,000 during the 15-year follow-up period, or about $87,000 less than the 2001 cohort. Similar gains were registered by female graduates of trades, college, and master's degree programs.

Among men, larger gains were generally registered by groups with higher levels of education. For example, men with a bachelor's degree from the 2001 cohort earned $69,000 more than their counterparts from the 1991 cohort. In comparison, gains of $159,000 and $213,000 between the two cohorts were registered among men with a master's degree and a doctorate, respectively. Trade graduates registered similar earnings gains ($74,000) as their counterparts with a bachelor's degree. College graduates registered smaller gains ($21,000).

Many disciplines typically associated with lower-than-average pay registered some of the largest gains in median cumulative earnings. For example, male bachelor's degree graduates of humanities and related fields and social sciences and related fields, as well as male master's degree graduates of social sciences and related fields, all registered gains in excess of $100,000 between the two cohorts. Similarly, female bachelor's degree graduates of educational, recreational and counselling services, fine and applied arts, and agricultural, biological, nutritional, and food services, as well as female master's degree graduates of social sciences and related fields, also registered gains in excess of $100,000.

Graduates from disciplines typically associated with above-average pay also registered large gains in median cumulative earnings. Indeed, female bachelor's degree graduates of engineering and applied sciences and technologies, male and female graduates of health professions and related technologies, and male master's degree graduates of commerce, management and business administration all registered gains in excess of $100,000 between the two cohorts. In fact, the largest gains of any single group were registered by male master's degree graduates of commerce, management and business administration ($219,000).

Several factors may have influenced these trends, including shifts in industries, occupations, temporary job holding, hours of work, part-time work, and multiple job holding. Follow-up work based on different data sources could examine the role of these factors in the evolution of labour market outcomes among postsecondary graduates.

Sustainable Development Goals

On January 1, 2016, the world officially began implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development—the United Nations' transformative plan of action that addresses urgent global challenges over the next 15 years. The plan is based on 17 specific sustainable development goals.

The study "Are the Career Prospects of Postsecondary Graduates Improving?" is an example of how Statistics Canada supports the reporting on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. This release will be used in helping to measure the following goal:

Products

The research paper "Are the Career Prospects of Postsecondary Graduates Improving?," which is part of the Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series (Catalogue number11F0019M), is now available.

Contact information

For more information, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca).

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Marc Frenette (613-864-0762; marc.frenette@canada.ca), Social Analysis and Modelling Division.

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