Here's where your college degree is worth the most

In countries where education is most accessible, your degree is the likely to give you less of a leg up

By Bloomberg News

Nov 24, 2015 @ 11:16 am EST

It may be time to rethink that move to Manhattan after graduation. South America has the best market for your college degree.

Chile and Brazil are the two countries where it pays the most to have a higher education, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Graduates there can expect to earn more than two and a half times that of their peers who went straight to work after high school. Colombia followed closely behind with the third-largest earnings gap.

The OECD's just-released 2015 Education at a Glance report compared employment income of 25- to 64-year-old workers who held a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree with those holding a high school diploma. In all of the 30 countries studied, those additional years of schooling were the worth the investment, with higher levels of education translating into lower unemployment and more income.

A bachelor's degree came with a 60% earnings advantage on average, while the unemployment rate was 3.7% compared with 7.2% on average for high school graduates.

"In the labor market and in life, education is worth the effort," the OECD said. "The labor market still regards a diploma or degree as the primary indication of a worker's skills. No doubt with these advantages in mind, increasing numbers of young adults in OECD countries are pursuing tertiary education."

The data showed that those without a college education found their income decreasing over time, while earnings for those with higher degree tended to increase with age.

College graduates also fared well above the norm in Hungary and Mexico, where salaries were two times higher than they would have been without a diploma. The United States ranked eighth, with an earnings premium of 76% over the high-school educated worker.

The premium is narrower in some Nordic countries. Comparatively, diplomas were worth the least in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, where the earnings premiums of college-educated workers were less than 30%.

The relationship between educational attainment and relative earnings is a balancing act between supply and demand. In countries where college is the most accessible, your degree is the likely to give you less of a leg up.

Sweden, Norway and Denmark all have free higher education, but the ease of access diminishes the competitive advantage of going to college. Workers there also benefit from substantial vocational programs available — making high school degrees more valuable in the job market.

In contrast, Brazil and Colombia, where college degree-earners had some of the biggest income advantages, the premium reflects a lack of access for the majority of young people. Tuition is relatively expensive, and over 30% of young adults have not even completed upper-secondary education. Graduates here were almost guaranteed to earn more than the national median income, with 90% doing so.

In Norway, it was a toss-up. A college education only translated into a 50% chance of making more than the median income.

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