1. Muslim educational attainment
Among the world’s major religious groups, Muslims have made some of the greatest gains in educational achievement in recent decades. The share of Muslim adults (ages 25 and older) with at least some formal schooling has risen by 25 percentage points in the past three generations, from fewer than half (46%) among the oldest group included in the study to seven-in-ten (72%) among the youngest. The Muslim gender gap in educational attainment worldwide also has narrowed.
Nearly four-in-ten (36%) Muslim adults, however, still have no formal schooling at all. That includes 43% of all Muslim women and 30% Muslim men. At the other end of the spectrum, 8% of Muslim adults – including 10% of Muslim men and 6% of Muslim women – have a post-secondary education.
There were a total of 1.6 billion Muslims of all ages in 2010. Educational attainment among the world’s more than 670 million Muslim adults varies widely depending on where they live, revealing a picture of high achievement in some countries and regions and a pattern of educational disadvantage in others. Globally, Muslim adults have an average of 5.6 years of schooling. But, regionally, the average ranges from 13.6 years among Muslims in North America (a population projected to increase from 3 million to 10 million people by 2050) to just 2.6 years in sub-Saharan Africa (where the number of Muslims of all ages is expected to expand from 248 million in 2010 to 670 million by mid-century).5
In sub-Saharan Africa, roughly two-thirds of Muslim adults (65%) have no formal schooling. The same is true for roughly four-in-ten Muslim adults in the Middle East-North Africa region (42%) and three-in-ten in Asia-Pacific region (32%). By comparison, nearly all Muslim adults living in North America and 95% of those in Europe have at least some formal education.
Sidebar: Education levels vary among Muslims in Europe
Muslims in Europe, whose total numbers are projected to increase from 43 million in 2010 to more than 70 million in 2050, display a wide variation in average years of schooling, according to data from 24 European countries.6
In some European countries (Lithuania, Slovakia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the United Kingdom and Ireland), Muslims have about 12 years of schooling or more, on average. In others, Muslims tend to have less education, ranging from an average of 10.8 years of schooling in Georgia to a continentwide low of 5.8 years in Spain.
In most of these countries, Muslims have less education than non-Muslims. The biggest gap is in Germany, where Muslims, on average, have 4.2 fewer years of schooling than non-Muslims (9.5 years vs. 13.7 years, respectively). Many of these countries have experienced large inflows of Muslim refugees or guest workers in recent decades. While the data in this report are from 2010, the surge of Muslim refugees to Europe in 2015 and 2016 from countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan may have increased the number of Muslims with fewer years of schooling than non-Muslims in several European countries.
In countries with relatively high education levels among Muslims, such as the United Kingdom and Ireland, Muslim communities often have been shaped by immigration policies favorable to highly educated migrants. For example, Ireland’s economic boom of the late 1990s drew highly skilled Pakistani and African migrants and refugees. Partly as a result of this, Muslims in Ireland have an average of 11.8 years of schooling – one more year, on average, than non-Muslims in that country.
In five of 19 European countries with available data on changes across generations, the Muslim educational disadvantage is larger among the youngest generation, compared with the oldest, partly because educational gains among Muslims have lagged behind those of non-Muslims. This is particularly apparent in Spain and Portugal. While Spain’s non-Muslim population gained roughly four years of schooling, on average, across recent generations, Muslims made virtually no overall gain across generations, which widened the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims from roughly one year among the oldest cohort to about a five-year difference among the youngest. Similarly, in Portugal, non-Muslims gained more than six years of formal education across cohorts, but Muslims gained roughly three years.
By contrast, Muslims in Germany have made rapid progress over recent generations. Among the oldest generation of Germans in the study, Muslims lag behind non-Muslims by more than seven years of schooling, on average (5.9 years vs. 13.4 years). But while Germany’s non-Muslim population gained about one year of schooling across recent generations, Muslims gained more than six additional years. As a result, the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims in Germany among the youngest generation is only about two years of schooling, on average (12.5 years vs. 14.5 years).
Muslim women around the world lag behind Muslim men in average years of schooling by a year and a half (4.9 years vs. 6.4 years). The gap is particularly large in the Middle East-North Africa region, where Muslim men have an average of 6.9 years of schooling and women have 4.9 years. These Muslim gender gaps are larger than the gaps for non-Muslims: Globally, non-Muslim men average 8.7 years of schooling, compared with 7.7 years for women, and in the Middle East-North Africa region, non-Muslim men have half a year of schooling more than non-Muslim women.
More than four-in-ten (43%) Muslim women worldwide have no formal schooling, compared with 30% of Muslim men. And in attainment of higher education, Muslim men lead women; 10% of Muslim men have post-secondary degrees, compared with 6% of Muslim women.
Younger Muslims generally more educated than older Muslims
From a generational perspective, Muslims have made substantial gains in educational attainment. Over the three generations in this study, they have gained an average of 3.1 more years of schooling: The youngest Muslims have, on average, 6.7 years of schooling, as compared with the oldest, who have 3.5 years of schooling.