Unemployment rates by qualification level
What We Have Found
People with a bachelors degree or postgraduate qualification had the lowest unemployment rate in 2016, at 2.9 percent. In comparison, the unemployment rate for people with no qualification was more than double this rate.
Date Updated: September 2017
The unemployment rate is defined as the number of unemployed people expressed as a percentage of the labour force. During periods of recession, an economy may experience a relatively high unemployment rate.
Why This Is Important
People with a tertiary qualification are more likely to be employed than people without a qualification. This is because people's earnings and employment status generally reflect the quality of their skills and the demand for these skills in the workplace. Men and women with higher-level skills can help business to be more productive and they are more likely to be employed and renumerated at higher levels than those with lower-level skills.
There is a substantial body of evidence showing that those with higher levels of education are more likely to participate in the labour market, face lower risks of unemployment, as well as having greater access to further training and receive higher earnings on average. While the direct contribution of education to these benefits is not established, this growing information base provides suggestive evidence of significant non-financial benefits associated with further education. Apart from improved intrinsic social benefits associated with higher levels of education, there may be indirect financial benefits, both private and public, such as those implied by the relationship between education and not smoking.
How We Are Going
People with a bachelors or higher qualification had the lowest unemployment rate. From 2015 to 2016, the unemployment rate for this group remained stable at 2.9 percent. This compared to 3.2 percent in 2011 and 2.5 percent in 2006.
For people with a level 4 to 6 diploma or certificate, the unemployment rate fell from 4.0 percent in 2015 to 3.6 percent in 2016. Ten years earlier, the unemployment rate for people with a level 4 to 6 diploma tracked more closely to that for people with a bachelors or higher qualification (Figure 1).
The unemployment rate has been tracking downwards for people with other post-school qualifications, from 5.1 percent in 2013 to 4.4 percent in 2016. The rate for the small group of people with a level 1 to 3 tertiary certificate increased slightly from 10 percent in 2015 to 11 percent in 2016.
The unemployment rate for people with no qualification,  at 8.2 percent, continues to be considerably higher than the rate for people with a bachelors or higher qualification. The unemployment rate for people with only a school qualification has been decreasing slowly. In 2016, this rate was 6.6 percent.
Figure 1: Unemployment rates of the population aged 15 years and over by qualification level, 2006-2016
- In June 2013, the qualification question in the Household Labour Force Survey was updated, leading to improved estimates of people with school qualifications.
- From 2006 to 2012, tertiary diplomas and certificates included level 7 diplomas and certificates.
- From 2006 to 2012, people who did not state their qualification were included with those with no qualification.
- Data for 2013 is based on the June, September and December quarters.
- From 2013 onwards, the detailed data is not directly comparable with previous years due to the above changes.
Figure 2 graphs the overall unemployment rates for men and women aged 15 years and over.
Men continue to have lower unemployment rates than women for level 1 to 6 diplomas and certificates. However, the difference in the employment rates between men and women with a bachelors or higher qualification has become very narrow and in 2016 they were almost the same. The differences between the genders, favouring men, were largest for level 1 to 3 certificates and level 4 to 6 diplomas and certificates.
Figure 2: Unemployment rates of the population aged 15 years and over by gender, 2006-2016
Europeans continue to have lower unemployment rates than the other ethnic groups. From 2015 to 2016, the unemployment rate for Europeans decreased from 4.1 percent to 3.9 percent, and it was 2.9 percent in 2006. The comparable figures for Māori were 11 percent in 2016, 12 percent in 2015 and 8.1 percent in 2006. For Pasifika the figures were 9.7 percent in 2016, 11 percent in 2015 and 6.6 percent in 2006. The unemployment rate for the Other ethnic group has been stable at 6.2 percent in 2016 and 2015 and 6.0 percent in 2006.
Figure 3: Unemployment rates of the population aged 15 years and over by ethnic group, 2006-2016
The differences in the unemployment rates by ethnic group are narrower for people with a bachelors or higher qualification. In 2016, the unemployment rate of Europeans with a bachelors or higher qualification was 1.9 percent. This compared to 4.2 percent for Māori, 5.3 percent for the Other ethnic group and 6.0 percent for Pasifika. From 2015 to 2016, the unemployment rate for people with a bachelors or higher qualification decreased for Europeans and Pasifika, while it increased for Māori and the Other ethnic group.
Figure 4: Unemployment rates of the population aged 15 years and over with a bachelors or higher qualification by ethnic group, 2006-2016
Data for the Pasifika ethnic group is not available for earlier years.
- Ministry of Education (2017) Profile & Trends 2016: Tertiary Education Outcomes and Qualification Completions, p 9, pp 10-11 and p 12, Wellington: Ministry of Education.
- OECD (2017). Education at a Glance: OECD indicators 2017, Paris: OECD.
- Statistics New Zealand (1991-2016) Household Labour Force Survey, Wellington: Statistics New Zealand.
- This group includes people who have studied but not completed a qualification. It also includes people who are currently studying.
Where To Find Out More
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