Another benefit of adult learning: social mobility

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Participating in learning has a measurable impact on people’s lives. This is obviously true for children, but recent research has shown convincingly that adults also benefit from their learning. Much of this research is particularly compelling because it is based on longitudinal studies, which allow us to examine how individuals’ lives change over time.

Now Arianna Tassinari from the Office for National Statistics has added to this important body of data. Using data from the British Household Panel Survey, she reported on a study of whether adult education participation can change the relationship between parental background and an individual’s own socio-economic status at different points in time.

The BHPS collects two types of information on adult learning: having acquired a qualification, and having undertaken non-formal adult learning. Tassinari and her colleagues looked at changes in socio-economic status that look place between one and five years after participation in learning. And by controlling for other factors, they were able to determine whether changes in status were associated with something else than participating in learning.

Their findings were clear. Tassinari and her colleagues reported that

A distinctive, positive effect of participation in adult learning for inter-generational mobility is found when considering outcomes five years after participation in adult education. In particular, we find that participation in adult learning leading to qualifications at level 3 or to other professional qualifications significantly decreases the effect of parental education on individuals’ own socio-economic position.

So there we have it. As well as having small but significant impacts on health, well-being, self-efficacy, cognitive resilience, employability, earnings and community-mindedness, we now have clear evidence that adult learning can help overcome inherited disadvantage. So investing public funds in adult learning ought to be a no-brainer, shouldn’t it?

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