SA’s Millennials have made substantial strides in education outcomes

It is often said that each generation should be better off than their parents. In South Africa, generational changes have largely been impacted by important political changes that affected the choices available to Generation X’ers and Millennials in terms of their educational and labour market participations.

According to a recent report, Education and Labour Market Outcomes in South Africa, 2018, released by Statistics South Africa, the biggest achievement was in the educational achievements of individuals who were aged 23–381 in 2002 (Generation X) as compared to those of the same age in 2018 (Millennials). Millennials – those born between 1980 and 1999 – are reported to have reduced percentage of people who did not have schooling, from 4,3% in 2002 to less than one per cent (0,9%) in 2018. Millennials who dropped out of primary school reduced from 19,5% in 2002 to 6,6% in 2018. Furthermore, the percentage of a tertiary qualification achievement increased from 10,9% in 2002 to 14,9% in 2018.

Education Data story graph 1

The report, which uses data from the General Household Survey (GHS) 2002 and 2018 indicates that, compared to Generation X in 2002, Millennial women in 2018 had outpaced men in secondary school completion and in achievement of tertiary qualifications.

However, the racial gap in tertiary educational attainment had increased between black Africans and whites (from 28,4 percentage points in 2002 to 35,7 percentage points in 2018).

Among Millennials, close to half (49,5%) were employed, while 23,8% were unemployed, and 26,7% were not economically active. This was close to a three-percentage-point decline from 2002 to 2018 among employed people when comparing Generation X and Millennials. Two out of ten (20,4%) employed Millennial adults aged 23–38 had a tertiary qualification in 2018, while in 2002, 15,9% of Generation X adults had a tertiary education.

The importance of attaining an education is often cited as a means of living a better life and providing a better future. Therefore, a lack of education makes it harder to succeed in life.

Among Generation X, close to six out of ten (60,5%) individuals had completed a low level of education or had dropped out of school, while only 39,4% had achieved grade 12 or a higher level of education. In contrast, more than half (51,5%) of the Millennials had completed their secondary education or acquired a tertiary qualification, while 48,0% had low levels of education or had dropped out of school.

While Millennials were more likely to be better educated than Generation X adults and Born-free Millennials, in terms of race, close to 48% white Millennials attained a tertiary qualification, while 31,8% Indians/Asians, 11,3% coloureds and 12,6% black Africans had achieved similar qualifications in 2018.

There was, however, a higher percentage of unemployed Millennials with a tertiary qualification in 2018 (9,5%) compared to unemployed Generation X adults aged 23–38 with a tertiary qualification in 2002 (5,6%).

Overall, 46,1% of Born-free Millennials were Not in Education, Employment, and Training (NEET), with 23-year-olds having the highest percentage in this category (53,2%). Furthermore, the gender gap in NEET status was 7,6 percentage points higher for Born-free Millennial women compared to men. A higher percentage (44,8%) of NEET Born-free Millennials did not complete secondary school, while 40,8% had completed secondary school.

For more information, download the “Education and Labour Market Outcomes in South Africa 2018” report here.

1 For analytical purposes Generation X individuals were defined as adults aged 23–38 in 2002, Millennials as adults aged 23–38 in 2018 and Born-free Millennials as adults aged 19–24 in 2018.