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Estonia is an attractive destination for highly educated immigrants

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Posted on 12. August 2022 8:49, by leading analyst Triinu Aug and analyst Mirjam Jesmin

During the population and housing census, information on the highest level of education attained by inhabitants of Estonia was also gathered. Collected data revealed that the educational attainment of the population continues to rise. The level of education of foreigners living in here has also increased significantly. Below we will take a closer look at the educational attainment of the native Estonian- and Russian-speaking population as well as that of other mother tongue speakers and see how it has changed since the previous censuses.

As at the end of 2021, 18% of the native Estonian-speaking population aged 25 and over[1] have basic education (or less), 43% have secondary education (or vocational education after secondary education), and 39% have higher education (or secondary specialised education after secondary education). The proportion of people with basic education is lower among native Russian speakers (11%), which means that the share of persons with secondary or higher education is a few percent higher than among the native Estonian-speaking population. Among native speakers of other languages, as many as 64% have higher education, and only 8% have basic education.

There are 13.5% fewer people with basic education or less among native Estonian speakers than at the time of the 2000 census. The drop is slightly smaller among the Russian-speaking population (-11.2%), while for people with other mother tongues, the decrease is almost twice as large (-25.6%). The share of people with secondary education has not changed significantly in the native Estonian- and Russian-speaking populations. However, among native speakers of other languages, there are now nearly 10% fewer people with secondary education than 20 years ago.

While the shares of people with basic and secondary education in the population have tended to decrease, the proportion of those with higher education has increased – by 13.2% for native Estonian speakers, by 9.5% for native speakers of Russian, and by 35.2% for the population speaking some other mother tongue. It is worth noting that while the percentage of people with higher education is rising in all three aforementioned groups, the proportion of the highly educated has increased much faster among other mother tongue speakers. This suggests that it is the highly educated foreigners that tend to migrate to Estonia nowadays.

The biggest changes in educational attainment among the Estonian- and Russian-speaking population occurred between the censuses of 2000 and 2011, but the most significant change among the population with some other mother tongue was seen after the census of 2011.

The gender gap in higher education is widest among native Estonian speakers

In most age groups, the share of people with tertiary education is highest among native speakers of languages other than Estonian or Russian. In the Estonian- and Russian-speaking population, less than 1.5% of people in each age group have a doctorate. Among native speakers of other languages, the share of doctoral degree holders is higher in all age groups under the age of 75. It is particularly high in the 35–49 age group – over 4%. The highest percentages of young people with a master’s and a bachelor’s degree are also found among those whose mother tongue is not Estonian or Russian: the proportion of master’s degree holders is highest in the 30–34 age group (36.1%) and the highest share of bachelor’s degree holders was recorded among those aged 25 to 29 (40.7%). For comparison: 15.3% of the 30–34-year-old native Estonian speakers and 11.9% of native Russian speakers have a master’s degree. People with a bachelor's degree make up less than 25% of both Estonian and Russian native speakers aged 25–29. Therefore, the young and working-age foreigners staying here permanently are quite highly educated. They are likely to have come here to work in a professional capacity or to further their education.

The proportion of tertiary-educated people is higher among women than men, and the gender gap is particularly wide in the native Estonian-speaking population. Especially among the native Estonian but also Russian speakers, the share of young and working-age women with higher education is much higher than that of men. In older age groups, it is the other way round: the percentage of men with higher education is higher. Among the population with some other mother tongue, the differences are not as pronounced. In the native Estonian-speaking female population, the share of those with tertiary education is highest in the 40–44 age group, reaching 57.8%. In this age group, 34.4% of Estonian-speaking men, 49.1% of Russian-speaking women and 33.1% of Russian-speaking men, and 73.8% of women and 67.4% of men with some other mother tongue have higher education.

In older age groups, the proportions of the highly educated are roughly the same across different mother tongues: less than 10% of people aged 55 and over have a bachelor’s degree and 19–25% of 55–74-year-olds have a master’s degree. The share of people with secondary specialised education (after secondary education) is higher among other mother tongue speakers and native Russian speakers over the age of 40. This makes sense since in Estonia, students were last admitted to schools offering such an education in 1999. Such educational institutions are more common in Russia, for instance.

Basic and secondary education are the highest completed educational levels in younger age groups of various mother tongues. Among older age groups, the proportions of people with basic and secondary education tend to be similar across different mother tongue groups. However, among 25–55-year-old native speakers of languages other than Estonian or Russian, the share of people with basic or secondary education is significantly lower than among the Estonian- and Russian-speaking population.


More highly educated people of other mother tongues live in Estonia than ever before

The educational attainment of the population with some other mother tongue has risen in all age groups since 2000, most notably among 25–34-year-olds. In 2000, higher education was recorded for 38% and in 2021 for 78.8% of them. These are young people who have either obtained a higher education in Estonia and then stayed here, or who have come to work and live in this country after completing their tertiary studies elsewhere. When it comes to older people, a major change occurred, for instance, in the 65–74 age group: the share of the highly educated among them is now 33.9% higher than 20 years ago. Overall, educational attainment of men and women rose equally.

The graphs illustrate the change in the share of various levels of education compared with previous years (the figure on the left shows the changes compared with 2000 and the one on the right reveals the change compared with 2011). For example, if you select “Higher education or secondary specialised education after secondary education” from the drop-down menu on the left and look at the blue line at the 55–64 age group on the left-side graph, you can see that compared with the year 2000, the share of people with higher education in this age group was 26% higher in 2021.

The biggest changes in educational attainment occurred between the population censuses of 2000 and 2011 but the share of people with higher education has increased in all age groups since the previous census as well. Among men, the most significant change over the decade was seen in the 25–34 age group, where the share of the highly educated increased by 23.7%, and in the 15–24 age group among women (up by 21.1%). The increase was smallest for men aged 55–64 and for women aged 85 and over. The largest disparity in the improvement of educational attainment can be seen in the 55–64 age group, where the share of men with higher education increased by 7%, compared with the 13.1% increase for women.

In a nutshell, at the time of the population census conducted 22 years ago, 35.3% of foreigners aged 25–64 living in Estonia had higher education, rising to 49.3% in 2011 and to 70.1% by 2021. It appears that highly educated foreigners are beginning to see better career prospects in Estonia – there are more working-age foreigners with higher education residing in Estonia than ever before.

The share of the highly educated among young native Russian speakers has fallen somewhat

Although the overall proportion of people with higher education among native Russian speakers has been rising since 2000, there has been a slight decrease or a much smaller increase in younger age brackets, compared with that of other native language groups. This might mean that it is now a little bit more difficult for young Russian speakers to acquire a suitable foundation for further study, or to obtain a higher education in Estonian schools than in the past.

Overall, women's educational attainment has increased more than men's. The biggest difference is seen among the 55–64-year-olds, where women's educational attainment has risen by 23.4% and men's by 9.4%. The largest increase was observed among men aged 75–84 and women aged 65–74. Already in 2000, the proportion of native Russian-speaking women with tertiary education was higher than that of men (31.2% and 24.7%, respectively), and the gap is even greater now.

The share of people with basic education has decreased by 12.4% compared with the year 2000. The biggest changes have been witnessed in the older age groups – the proportion of persons with basic education dropped by 49% among 65–74-year-olds. A slight increase was seen in the younger age groups. The share of people with secondary education has risen by 1.8%. There has been an increase in the proportion of persons with secondary education among the older population and a decrease among younger people. The share of people with secondary education has increased most (by 23.1%) among those aged 65–74 and fallen among people aged 25–34 (-11.3%).

The gender gap in higher education among young native Estonian speakers is narrowing

The level of education of native Estonian speakers has generally risen, particularly among older people. The biggest change compared with 2000 occurred in the 75–84 age group, where the share of the highly educated increased by 22.1%. The proportion of tertiary graduates is still higher among women than men. The gap has widened among older people. However, compared with 2011, the proportion of higher-educated men under 35 has increased more than that of women, meaning that the gender gap in educational attainment has started to narrow for the younger population. Over the past 20 years, the share of people with secondary education has also risen in older age groups, with the biggest change among men aged 55–64 (an increase of 26.8%).

The share of native Estonian speakers with basic education has fallen by 13.1%. It has remained roughly the same or even risen slightly among young people, while in older age groups the share of persons with basic education has fallen sharply. In 2000, basic education (or less) was the highest educational level attained for more than half of the population aged 65 and over, whereas by now, the proportion has dropped to 45.8% even among people aged 85 and over. People who did not have the opportunity to go beyond basic or primary education when they were young are now quite old. These days it is common for the majority of younger population to have at least a secondary education and, increasingly, higher education. 
 


[1] From here onwards, we will focus on the population aged 25 and older, as younger people are mostly still obtaining education.