One in five Canadian teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 did not pursue a formal education in 2008, according to a study released Tuesday by the Canadian Education Statistics Council, a partnership between Statistics Canada and the country's education ministers.

The number is higher than an average of 15 per cent for the 31 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which includes Canada.

Of OECD members, only Australia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Norway had higher proportions of 15- to 19-year-olds not in school, the study found.

While the OECD average for percentage of teens not in school decreased five per cent since 1998, Canada's percentage remained constant.

The study's authors acknowledge that 20 per cent "is high, given that school attendance is compulsory until at least age 16 in most of Canada and until age 18 in Ontario and New Brunswick."

They suggest economic conditions, such as a strong labour market, might influence young people's decisions about education.

Despite the figure, "Canada continues to do very well in education, and we have been improving," Andrew Parkin, director general of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, which includes ministers from all provinces and territories and serves as a forum to discuss education policy.

Parkin's group and Statistics Canada work together under the moniker of the Canadian Education Statistics Council to publish data about education to aid in policy-making.

"The percentage of Canadians that has at least a high school degree has been increasing slowly year after year and [is] certainly much higher now than it was 10 years ago," Parkin told CBC. "We continue to be at the very top of the OECD in terms of the percentage of the population that have a post-secondary degree."

Membership in the OECD has increased to 33 countries since the study was done.

Percentage varies geographically

Across Canada, the proportion of teenagers in the 15-19 age group who were no longer in school varied from 14 per cent in New Brunswick to 26 in Alberta, the report said.

Corresponding estimates for the territories ranged from 25 per cent to 34 per cent.

The results are significant because of StatsCan's claim that employment and earnings prospects increase strongly with educational attainment.

In 2008, the employment rate for Canadians between the ages of 25 and 64 who had not completed high school was 58 per cent whereas the figure for college and university graduates was 83 per cent.

Graduates from university programs earned considerably more —75 per cent more on average — than high school or trade and vocational program graduates.

Parkin suggested the percentage of teens age 15 to 19 in school would likely be higher in 2010 because the economic recession inspired many young people to return to high school, college or university.

With files from the CBC's Dave Seglins and The Canadian Press