International Review of Education

, Volume 61, Issue 4, pp 529–546 | Cite as

Adult learning and social inequalities: Processes of equalisation or cumulative disadvantage?

  • Elina Kilpi-Jakonen
  • Daniela Vono de Vilhena
  • Hans-Peter Blossfeld
Original Paper

Abstract

Adult learning is an increasingly important form of education in globalised and aging societies. While current policy recommendations tend to focus on increasing participation rates, the authors of this article argue that higher participation rates do not necessarily lead to lower social/educational inequalities in participation. The aim of this paper is to examine the relationship between social inequalities and adult learning by exploring cross-national patterns of participation in different adult learning activities and the consequences of participation on individual labour market trajectories. The empirical basis of the paper is an analysis of 13 country studies (as well as two cross-national analyses) brought together by the international comparative research project “Education as a lifelong process – comparing educational trajectories in modern societies” (eduLIFE). Despite wide variations in participation rates across countries, mechanisms of social/educational inequality in engagement in job-related adult learning tend to be relatively similar across countries, in particular with regard to non-formal learning. Effects tend most frequently to be a presence of cumulative advantage, though in some countries a certain degree of equalisation is noticeable with regard to formal adult education. The authors conclude that it is relatively clear that currently almost no country is truly able to reduce social inequalities through adult learning. Their recommendation is that public policy makers should place greater emphasis on making adult learning more accessible (in terms of entry requirements, affordability as well as motivation) to underrepresented groups, in particular those who are educationally disadvantaged.

Keywords

Adult learning Continuing education Social inequality Educational inequality Labour market returns Cross-national comparisons 

Résumé

Apprentissage des adultes et inégalités sociales : processus égalisateur ou cumul de désavantages ? L’apprentissage des adultes est une forme d’éducation qui gagne en importance dans nos sociétés mondialisées et vieillissantes. Si les recommandations stratégiques actuelles tendent à favoriser l’augmentation des taux de participation, les auteurs de cet article avancent que des taux de participation plus élevés ne conduisent pas nécessairement à une baisse des inégalités sociales et éducatives. Le but de cet article est d’étudier la relation entre inégalités sociales et apprentissage des adultes, en explorant les schémas internationaux de participation à diverses activités d’éducation des adultes, ainsi que les conséquences de la participation sur les parcours individuels dans le marché du travail. La base empirique de cet article est une analyse de 13 études nationales (et deux analyses transnationales) compilées par le projet international de recherche comparée Education as a lifelong processcomparing educational trajectories in modern societies (eduLIFE/Apprentissage tout au long de la vie – comparer les parcours éducatifs dans les sociétés modernes). En dépit des importantes variations des taux de participation entre les pays, les mécanismes d’inégalité sociale et éducative dans la participation à l’apprentissage à visée professionnelle sont relativement comparables, notamment dans l’apprentissage non formel. Parmi les conséquences figure le plus souvent un cumul d’avantages, même si un certain degré d’égalisation est perceptible dans certains pays au niveau de l’éducation formelle des adultes. Les auteurs concluent qu’à l’évidence, presque aucun pays n’est actuellement véritablement en mesure de réduire les inégalités sociales à travers l’apprentissage des adultes. Ils recommandent que les responsables de politiques publiques mettent davantage l’accent sur un accès accru à l’apprentissage des adultes (en termes de conditions d’admission, d’abordabilité et de motivation) des groupes sous-représentés, en particulier ceux qui sont défavorisés sur le plan éducatif.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elina Kilpi-Jakonen
    • 1
  • Daniela Vono de Vilhena
    • 2
  • Hans-Peter Blossfeld
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Social ResearchUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland
  2. 2.Population Europe SecretariatBerlinGermany
  3. 3.European University InstituteSan Domenico Di FiesoleItaly

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