Qualification attainment

Women’s educational qualifications have increased in absolute terms and relative to men’s over the last 30 years. Over this period the number of women with a post-school qualification increased by 131 percent (compared with a 78 percent increase for men).  Women of working age are now more highly qualified than men.

From the early 1990s New Zealand girls became more likely than boys to stay on at school to ages 16 and 17 years.  Since that time, New Zealand women have been acquiring bachelor degrees at an 80 percent higher rate than men, post-graduate degrees and undergraduate diplomas at a 50 percent higher rate, and lower level certificates at a 30 percent higher rate.

Women, however, are less likely than men to study science, engineering, technology, or mathematics – subjects that have a high economic return. They are also less likely to take up training as electricians, plumbers, builders and other vocational trades that are dominated by men and tend to be higher paid than trades dominated by women.

New Zealand compares well internationally

The proportion of women in New Zealand today with tertiary qualifications is high by OECD standards. Out of all OECD countries, only Canada has a higher proportion than New Zealand of women aged 25 to 64 years with a tertiary qualification.  Young women have obtained higher qualifications at an increasing rate over the last generation.  A gender qualification ‘catch-up’ for older women has also occurred over the past 30 years.  New Zealand is unusual in this regard.  Compared to adults in other OECD countries New Zealanders are more likely to acquire qualifications at an older age.

A significant group with no or few qualifications persists

Even with women’s rapid attainment of higher qualifications over the past generation a significant group of women with no or few qualifications persists: 24 percent of women aged 15 years and above had no qualifications in 2011.  Young people who leave school without qualifications are highly over-represented in the ‘not in employment, education, or training (NEET)' group. This is concerning as it has become more difficult to gain employment without qualifications.

Significant differences in qualifications levels continue between women from different ethnic groups, despite women from all ethnicities showing advances compared with men from the same ethnicities. Despite gaps closing, Māori and Pacific women remain over-represented amongst those women without post-school qualifications.