Academic Literature

Studying beyond age 25 – The case of Australia

Why should we keep studying beyond our mid-20s? ask  Michael Coelli, Domenico Tabasso and Rezida Zakirova in Studying beyond age 25: who does it and what do they gain? (Adapted excerpts by JMM to follow)

After all, education and training at a younger age provide for the longest period over which the return on the investment can be harvested. On the other hand, individuals in their 40s (or even 50s) can expect to work for another 20 years or so, allowing plenty of time to recoup the cost of the investment in education and training.

Using data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey and the Survey of Education and Training (SET), this study investigates what prompts people to participate in education and training at more mature ages, and the impact of this participation on their labour markets outcomes. The report describes the main characteristics of Australians who choose to participate in formal education at more mature ages, investigates a number of potential outcomes of such investments and explores why Australian participation rates are higher than those in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The authors find that more educated individuals are more likely to undertake further education or training.

   Percentage of individuals enrolled in formal education by age group, 2008

15–19 20–29 30–39 40 and over
Australia 81.6 33.0 13.4 5.8
United Kingdom 72.6 17.0 5.6 1.6
United States 80.8 23.2 5.5 1.3
OECD average 81.5 24.9 5.9 1.6

Source: OECD (2010).

Key messages

  • For males, the desire to change their current employment situation (for example, gain a promotion or obtain a different job) was a key motivator for studying after the age of 25 years. For females, simply getting a job was a major driver, especially for women who were divorced or separated.
  • Labour market outcomes differed also by gender. For women who were not employed previously, enrolling in, or completing, a vocational education and training (VET) course increased the likelihood of finding a job by around one-third. For men, completion of university qualifications resulted in higher hourly wages.
  • A shared outcome for both males and females was a sustained increase in job satisfaction following the course of study, which may be related to increases in levels of skills use in the job. The increases in reported skills use during and after study are sizeable, particularly for men, and persist after training has been completed.

Overall, Coelli and his colleagues conclude that the positive effects of mature-age education are quite modest, although there are clear examples of positive payoff — women who are not employed, for example. They suggest this supports the notion of targeted, as opposed to universal, government support.

*-*

The figures reported in table 7 offer a first insight into the differences between individuals who enrol in education at more mature ages and those who do not. A few elements of distinction between the two groups can be noted from table 7. Individuals who engage in education generally appear to be better educated to begin with, as can be observed from the proportions of diploma and university degree holders in the two subsamples, irrespective of the respondent’s gender. The evidence is more mixed with respect to the prior employment status of survey participants. For men, there is a notable difference in the percentages of full-time and part-time workers across the two groups. While full-time clearly prevails among non-students in the two younger age groups, the gap tends to decrease among older individuals. These relationships are less clear for females. Note also that for both genders the proportion of unemployed individuals is higher among those who enrol in education.

Education levels and employment status by study status, HILDA 

Not studying Studying
Age group in 2001 25–34 35–44 45–54 55–64 25–34 35–44 45–54 55–64
Males
Observations 371 573 569 466 285 255 119 34
Education level
Below Year 10 3.65 7.65 10.12 21.78 1.29 3.37 1.71 4.58
Year 10–11 or cert. I/II 20.01 22.96 22.39 16.38 14.85 13.27 10.74 8.73
Completed Year 12 16.47 11.47 11.39 7.85 20.50 7.61 15.18 7.11
Certificate III/IV 29.34 31.54 27.65 28.59 22.07 33.14 25.15 31.49
Diploma 8.64 10.34 9.34 11.39 9.01 14.25 13.49 16.40
Degree and above 21.89 16.04 19.11 14.01 32.28 28.37 33.73 31.68
Employment status
Full-time 86.15 82.97 68.97 28.82 78.14 75.52 76.05 41.84
Part-time 5.00 5.53 10.05 16.92 11.42 9.89 6.97 16.00
Unemployed 1.99 1.79 1.75 1.70 4.31 6.97 5.92 10.52
Not in the labour force 6.85 9.71 19.23 52.55 6.13 7.62 11.06 31.64
Females
Observations 412 622 622 510 367 371 180 54
Education level
Below Year 10 3.29 7.88 16.70 26.96 2.30 5.16 4.99 9.04
Year 10–11 or cert. I/II 29.52 33.32 37.12 39.13 16.00 26.65 21.20 24.85
Completed Year 12 23.68 15.72 13.31 5.56 22.51 13.84 20.05 5.60
Certificate III/IV 9.32 8.69 10.12 8.34 10.89 14.21 15.11 8.87
Diploma 7.87 9.83 7.08 8.70 18.45 11.84 9.28 21.03
Degree and above 26.32 24.56 15.67 11.31 29.85 28.30 29.38 30.60
Employment status
Full-time 32.77 37.68 35.14 11.92 42.36 38.54 49.42 32.47
Part-time 33.50 34.51 29.87 15.84 30.35 37.19 26.35 25.62
Unemployed 0.99 1.33 1.41 0.51 3.97 6.06 3.55 3.79
Not in the labour force 32.75 26.47 33.59 71.73 23.32 18.21 20.68 38.12

Source:

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