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 10: Adult Learners in Finland: Formal Adult Education as an Opportunity for Reducing Inequality?

Elina Kilpi-Jakonen, Outi Outi Sirniö and Pekka Martikainen

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


Finland experienced radical social changes in the second half of the 20th century. For the purposes of this study, two transformations stand out. First, there was a rapid rise in the educational level of the population that took place alongside Finland’s shift from a rural agricultural society to an urban service society. Second, there was a deep recession in the first half of the 1990s that led to increasing social inequality, particularly between the employed and the non-employed. Both of these large-scale societal changes led to specific population sub-groups being left behind either educationally or in the labor market. Our interest lies in whether these groups can catch up by attending formal adult education. Our particular focus is on adults gaining a new qualification, be it an educational upgrade or a qualification in a new field. We examine what leads adults to embark upon such a course of study and how their labor market chances evolve before and after graduation. We also show how these chances evolve for young graduates. Our analysis focuses on formal adult education due to its possible role in reducing social inequalities; non-formal learning, on the other hand, tends to increase existing educational inequalities. We begin by describing the Finnish context in more detail, including both the historical changes relevant to our study as well as the current institutional context. We then lay out the main aims of our study in more detail, followed by a description of the data and methods used and then our results. We end with a discussion of the results with reference to both the expectations that we laid out as well as those of this volume as a whole (see Chapter 1), focusing in particular on the implications of adult education for social inequality.

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