Americans With Postgraduate Degrees Report Edge in Lifelong Learning, Overall Well-Being

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By Brandon Busteed and Jessica Stutzman –

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans with an education beyond an undergraduate degree show a higher level of well-being than those with less education, according to the latest Gallup poll on the subject, which found that 74 percent of adults in the U.S with graduate degrees say that they learn or do something interesting every day.

Only 66 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree respond positively to this measure of individual well-being, while only 63 percent of those with just a high school education indicate they are still interested in learning.

“The majority of Americans, no matter what their education level, agree that they learn or do something interesting every day,” Gallup says in its analysis of the data. “However, when looking at levels of educational attainment, it is not until the postgraduate level that there is a meaningful difference in terms of someone believing that he or she gets to learn or do something interesting every day.”

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Purpose well-being — defined as liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals — is just one of the five well-being elements that the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index measures, according to Gallup, with along with Healthways, asks adults in the U.S. to rate their level of agreement with the statement: “You learn or do something interesting every day,” on a five-point scale.

“Along with other questions, Gallup uses this measure to calculate the extent to which someone is thriving — or strong and consistent — in his or her purpose well-being,” according to the survey research firm. “Because factors such as income could affect education levels and, therefore, learning or doing interesting things on a daily basis, the analysis accounted for age, gender, race, income, region and marital status…”

Researchers could measure lifelong learning in a number of quantifiable, activity-based ways, such as asking graduates how many books or articles they have read as well as whether and how often they visit a library or search the Internet for new information. Or researchers could ask more abstract questions, including whether graduates seek out conversations with people from diverse backgrounds or foreign countries.

By asking whether someone agrees that they learn or do something interesting every day, however, Gallup and Healthways says they can discern whether graduates are still learning later in life, or not.

“Higher education institutions across the U.S. share similar mission and purpose statements,” Gallup says.

These statements often include a core goal of “fostering lifelong learning” among students and graduates.

“While this is a commonly shared goal among higher education institutions, it is difficult to identify a way to measure whether students and graduates are indeed becoming lifelong learners,” Gallup says.

But this research provides a tangible metric to evaluate well-being.

Other factors independent of education level can influence daily learning as well, including the culture of the city or area where one resides. Prior Gallup analyses show that cities with a heavy academic presence tend to score higher in overall well-being, which is supported in part by residents saying that they learn new and interesting things every day.

“Cities with a strong academic presence likely provide residents with more chances to learn and do interesting things through community events and educational opportunities,” Gallup says. “As Americans scrutinize the value of a college degree — from whether it improves their job prospects to whether it helps them become engaged citizens and lifelong learners — it is necessary for colleges and universities to do more to measure and track long-term outcomes, as well as make good on the promises made in their mission statements and touted in admissions brochures.”

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 2, 2014-June 1, 2015, as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey, with a random sample of 251,193 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of Americans, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 0.2 percentage point at the 95 percent confidence level, including computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50 percent cellphone respondents and 50 percent landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

© 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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