High school dropout rates have plummeted by almost half in the past 20 years, a new study has found.

Statistics Canada reports that 191,000 young people aged 20 to 24 had not completed a high school diploma and were not attending school in 2009-2010, or 8.5 per cent.

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Students listen in a Calgary classroom in 2009. Statistics Canada says dropout rates are lower for women than men. ((CBC))

That's a big drop from the 1990-91 figure of nearly 340,000, or 16.6 per cent.

The agency says dropout rates were lower for young women (6.6 per cent) last year than for young men (10.3 per cent).

Statistics Canada found that, while rates have declined for both sexes, the rate of decrease was faster for men, narrowing the gap between the two.

Dropout rates were lower for young immigrant adults than for their Canadian-born counterparts and higher among aboriginal youth than non-aboriginal residents.

The agency says nearly one in four dropouts in the labour market could not find a job during the 2008-09 economic downturn. Earnings among those who did find work were less than for those with a high school diploma.

Dropout rates fell in all provinces, with the biggest changes coming in most of Atlantic Canada, where rates fell from the 15 to 20 per cent range in the early 1990s to between nine and 11 per cent a decade later.

Since then, the Atlantic region's dropout rates have fallen even further.

Newfoundland and Labrador had the most significant change in dropout rates over the past 20 years. Its three-year average rate between 1990 and 1993 was 19.9 per cent, the highest in Canada.

Between 2007 and 2010, the province's three-year average had declined to 7.4 per cent, one of the lowest. The average was lowest in British Columbia, at 6.2 per cent between 2007 and 2010.