In all countries surveyed, occupations that are considered to be more ‘knowledge intensive’ are associated with higher levels of problem-solving skills, while length of time in the workforce after completing initial education is associated with a steady decline in average problem-solving skills. The latter findings are consistent with other studies which have found that older adults typically perform at lower levels when compared to middle-aged adults on problem-solving tasks.
Isolating the effects of workplace learning and other informal learning in everyday life is difficult because of two opposing factors. On the one hand, ongoing learning after the initial period of formal education should result in increased skill levels. On the other hand, the absence of learning opportunities and the effects of aging will contribute to skill loss over time.
In order to examine the relationship between initial education and subsequent learning and their impacts on problem-solving skills, four combinations of education and occupation were created:
- High education, high-knowledge occupation;
- High education, low-knowledge occupation;
- Low education, high-knowledge occupation;
- Low education, low-knowledge occupation.
By comparing the distribution of problem-solving skills, along with age, for these four education and knowledge groups, the importance to skill maintenance of workplace and other learning experiences relative to formal education can be studied.
Conventional knowledge in the field of literacy suggests that the high-education groups will outperform the low-education groups in problem-solving skills throughout the lifespan, due to the positive and cumulative effects of initial education. However, the results of the analysis suggest a more complex explanation for the development and maintenance of problem-solving skills.
In most countries, age-related decreases in problem-solving skills are moderated by both education and occupation. The combination of high education and high-skill occupation is associated with the greatest degree of skill maintenance. High initial education is associated with significantly higher problem-solving skills for younger people, but this does not remain true through the life course. In fact, over time, the scores of individuals with low education in high-skill occupations tend to be higher than those of individuals with high education in low-skill occupations (Chart 1).
Maintenance of problem-solving skills, by education, occupation and age, population scoring at prose literacy Level 2 or above, 26 to 65 year-olds, 2003 and 2008
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