Education and Skills

Which countries have the most doctoral graduates?

Students throw their hats after the graduation ceremony at the Hamburg School of Business Administration in Hamburg, September 26, 2012.

At graduation ceremonies graduates celebrate by throwing their hats into the air. Image: REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

Rosamond Hutt
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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Switzerland

Do you hold a doctorate? If the answer is yes, you’re among a small but increasing proportion of adults to have earned the highest degree awarded in academia.

Just 1.1% of 25- to 64-year-olds held a doctoral degree on average across OECD countries in 2018, according to the organisation’s Education at a Glance 2019 report.

Although, as the chart below shows, the share of the population with a doctoral degree varies significantly across OECD countries, from almost 4% in Slovenia to 0.1% in Indonesia.

Percentage of the population holding doctorates Image: OECD, Education at a Glance 2019

Growing pool of doctoral candidates

When it comes to sheer numbers, the United States has the most doctoral graduates by far (71,000 in 2017), though it is ranked fourth in per capita terms. Germany and the United Kingdom are next with around 28,000 each.

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Overall the number of doctorate holders is on the rise, growing by about 8% across OECD countries between 2013 and 2017, and in particular in Mexico, Spain and the United States.

If the current pace of growth continues then 2.3% of today’s young adults living in OECD countries will go on to study at doctoral level in their lifetime, the report says.

This is good news not only for doctoral graduates – who can expect relatively high employment rates and earnings in most countries, especially if they enter the private sector – but also for entire economies.

By advancing knowledge and research across academia and industry, doctoral students and doctorate holders can help make economies more innovative.

No wonder then that some countries try to attract more doctoral candidates with incentives such as charging lower fees (Australia, Italy and Switzerland) and recognizing them as employees rather than students (Norway and Switzerland).

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