Learning and Wellbeing Trajectories Among Older Adults in England
In an ageing society such as the UK, there is much interest in factors which can contribute to the wellbeing of older adults. It is not implausible to suppose that participation in learning could have beneficial effects, yet research on the wider benefits of learning has tended to focus on young people or those in mid-life and there is currently little evidence on the impact of learning on the wellbeing of older adults. Insofar as evidence does exist, most of it is qualitative, and while of much value and interest, it is based on very small, and possibly not very representative, samples of the older population. This research aimed to provide new, quantitative evidence drawing on a large, nationally representative sample, on the effects of participation in learning on the wellbeing of older adults. Our study used data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), a continuing, longitudinal survey of older adults which is representative of people aged 50 years and above living in private households in England. To measure wellbeing we used the CASP-19 instrument, a subjective wellbeing measure which was designed specifically for older adults and is available at all waves of the ELSA survey. ELSA respondents were asked about four types of learning activity: obtaining qualifications; attendance at formal education/training courses; membership of education, music or arts groups or evening classes; membership of sports clubs, gym and exercise classes. A range of regression techniques were used to analyse the relationship between learning and wellbeing. Multiple regression models were applied to data from ELSA wave 4. To take account of unobservable factors which might influence wellbeing we applied multiple regression to the change score between two waves of the survey and fitted fixed effects panel regressions to four waves of ELSA data. Learning was associated with higher wellbeing after controlling for a range of other factors. We found strong evidence that more informal types of learning were associated with higher wellbeing. There was also some evidence that obtaining qualifications was linked to higher wellbeing but no evidence that formal education/training courses were associated with higher wellbeing.
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