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Press Release - 27 June 2005

Education boosts the work ethic, new study shows

Growing educational achievement among British employees is strengthening the work ethic and providing the economy with the skills it needs, a new study has shown.

Examining almost 100,000 employee interviews carried out between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s, researchers at the University of Bath have identified a strong link between higher exam achievement and positive work attitude.

This link became stronger during this period as the number of young people failing to gain any exam certificate was halved while those gaining university degrees doubled, giving Britain a far more committed workforce now than in the 1980s.

Higher qualifications provided the labour market with skills that most employers wanted to buy. The new recruits were also keener to do well in their jobs and achieve signs of success which is good for productivity in firms, and thus good for the economy as a whole.

These findings, published in the current issue of the Journal of Education and Work, vindicate current education policies which stress exam success and access to better training and higher education.

“Concerns that rising educational qualifications undermine work attitudes by creating unreal expectations have been unfounded,” said Professor Mike Rose from the Department of Social and Policy Sciences at the University of Bath who led the project.

“On the contrary, all the available evidence points to a growing commitment to work, the adoption of long-term career planning, hard-headed choices in the search for jobs, and focused performance in them.”

“The Thatcher governments of the 1980s had an ambivalent attitude towards education, strongly suspecting that students opting for arts or social science subjects would lose commitment to work.

“Theorists also expected the coming information-based society to face a serious problem of worker motivation, with people seeking jobs to ‘express themselves’, or allow more leisure time, rather than to build careers and make money.

“Both these expectations proved wrong and kamikaze careerists seeking success at all costs remain as rare as ever. But over nine out of ten employees with degrees now say they look on working as a lifetime career.”

Women adopting ‘male’ work attitudes

The research, which was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, also identified important differences between male and female employees, with ‘career-centredness’ growing fastest among young women.

”The British qualifications revolution is eroding gendered work attitudes,” said Professor Rose.

“In the last century, a sizeable ‘qualifications deficit’ among girl school leavers helped give most women a short-term, opportunist approach to employment. Girls now outperform boys in exams, and gendered work aims have crumbled in this sex equality crunch.”

In the highest qualified groups, work attitudes have largely converged between males and females. Moreover, fewer highly qualified women are saying they seek a job offering opportunities for self-expression with more saying they look on work to provide necessities, independence, and money rewards over the long term. At the same time, few men now say they regard themselves as the natural choice for household breadwinner.

Policy impact

The University of Bath findings vindicate current official education policies which stress exam success and access to better training and higher education.

For employers, however, the message is rather complex. “In themselves, higher qualifications neither create nor damage organisational involvement,” said Professor Rose.

“However, it is important to make sure of a good match between the learned skills and abilities employees bring from education and the level of demands made by the jobs they do in an organisation.

“Lack of challenge is strongly associated with lower job satisfaction. Although employees doing jobs for which they lack proper qualifications may be highly motivated, their lack of education and training may ruin their performance."

Notes

The research results are reported in detail in tissue 18(2) of the Journal of Education and Work.


The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities, with an international reputation for quality research and teaching. View a full list of the University's press releases: http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/