Table of Contents

Adult Learning in Modern Societies

Adult Learning in Modern Societies

An International Comparison from a Life-course Perspective

eduLIFE Lifelong Learning series

Edited by Hans-Peter Blossfeld, Elina Kilpi-Jakonen, Daniela Vono de Vilhena and Sandra Buchholz

As industrial societies increasingly evolve into knowledge-based economies, the importance of education as a lifelong process is greater than ever. This comprehensive book provides a state-of-the-art analysis of adult learning across the world and within varying institutional contexts. The expert contributors examine the structures of formal and non-formal adult learning in different countries, and investigate the levels of success those countries have experienced in encouraging participation and skill formation.

Chapter 1: Adult Learning, Labor Market Outcomes, and Social Inequalities in Modern Societies

Elina Kilpi-Jakonen, Sandra Buchholz, Johanna Dämmrich, Patricia McMullin and Hans-Peter Blossfeld

Subjects: education, education policy, politics and public policy, education policy, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, education policy, sociology and sociological theory


Education continues to be a focus of discussion in the media, politics, and the research communities of modern societies and has been increasing in importance in many countries, especially since the first PISA evaluation in 2000.1 However, adult learning has generally not received much attention from policymakers, and public investments in education have been targeted at other areas (European Commission 2011). This trend stands in spite of the fact that individuals who leave initial education and enter the labor market represent the largest share of the population. What is more, there are two important macrodevelopments – namely demographic aging and accelerated economic change as part of the process of globalization – that make it increasingly important for modern societies to ensure that their populations have up-to-date skills throughout the whole life course. Adult learning has important implications for social inequality. On the one hand, giving adults the chance to increase their educational level or change their field of education has the potential to reduce inequalities that may have emerged earlier in life. Moreover, the macro-processes of globalization and demographic change are likely to have a particularly strong impact on the need for older persons and the lower qualified to take part in lifelong learning in order to update their skills to match new labor market demands (cf. OECD 2013). On the other hand, adult learning may actually increase existing inequalities if the well educated are the primary group taking advantage of these opportunities. Overall, the development of adult learning should be of interest to everyone concerned with the development of social inequality over the life course.

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