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Good for your soul? Adult learning and mental well-being
Although there is a widely held view that adult learning has a positive impact on well-being, only recently has this proposition been systematically tested. The paper reviews recent research findings on the influence of adult learning on earnings and employability, both of which may influence well-being indirectly. These are more important for some groups than others: in economically advanced societies, additional earnings produce limited gains in well-being for most groups except the poorest, while employability is most significant for groups that are most vulnerable in the labour market. The author then reviews recent research findings showing that participating in learning in adult life has some positive direct influence on well-being; analyses of cohort studies suggest that the influence is comparatively small, but nevertheless significant. There has been less study of learning’s negative consequences for well-being, and the paper draws on history data to illustrate some of these less desirable influences. It concludes by identifying areas for further research, and outlining a number of implications for policy and practice. These are particularly important in the current context, where environmental movements appear to be challenging the primacy of economic growth as the overarching goal of policy.