What Happens to Students with Low Reading Proficiency at 15? Evidence from Australia

Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 33/16

Date: 2016


Chris Ryan
Cain Polidano


While is it widely accepted that adults with poor reading skills have inferior labour market outcomes, little is known about whether low reading proficiency in school is a precursor to inferior labour market outcomes in adulthood. We fill this gap in the literature using education and labour market information to age 25 years for participants in the 2003 Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) who were tracked from age 15 in the 2003 Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth. We find no difference in full-time employment rates or earning capacity of jobs attained at age 25 between those who had low and medium reading proficiency at age 15. Supporting analysis suggests that high rates of participation and positive outcomes from vocational education and training (VET) among those with low reading proficiency helps them avoid any negative effects from poor achievement in school. These results highlight the role of accessible VET pathways in facilitating the labour market participation of youth who may become disengaged from learning in school.

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  • Academic achievement, PISA, labour market