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Formal education is not linked to greater job satisfaction

A new study from the University of Notre Dame has revealed that formal education does not consistently lead to greater job satisfaction. In fact, there is almost no correlation between the two, according to the researchers.

“Our study shows people who have invested in formal education do not tend to be more satisfied in their jobs,” said study co-author Professor Brittany Solomon. 

“We found that better-educated individuals do enjoy greater job-related resources including income, job autonomy and variety. But they also endure longer work hours and increased job pressure, intensity and urgency.” 

“On average, these demands are associated with increased stress and decreased job satisfaction, largely offsetting the positive gains associated with greater resources.”

The researchers determined that the association between education and job satisfaction was more likely to be negative among women, yet less negative among individuals who are self-employed. 

“Women still face workplace adversity that can undermine the positive returns on their educational investment,” said Professor Solomon. “This dynamic is particularly important given the reversal of the gender gap in education, with more women completing higher education than men.”

“We explored the notion that the education-job satisfaction link is negative and stronger for women and discovered that, compared to their highly educated male counterparts, highly educated women experience more stress at work and lower job satisfaction.”

The experts noted that self-employment offers considerable flexibility to organize one’s schedule, choose the work content, and to decide how to respond to job demands.

“We found that, compared to their wage-employed counterparts, those in self-employment seem to be more insulated from the adverse effects of education on job stress and satisfaction,” explained Professor Solomon. “We believe illuminating this boundary condition is notable for the educated and organizations that value and want to retain their educated employees.”

The researchers do not advise skipping higher education in an effort to achieve greater job satisfaction, but instead recommend a realistic calculation of the trade-offs of specific working conditions, including the associated stress.

“Balancing those conditions that lead to both stress and job satisfaction may help workers recalibrate their values and ultimately make decisions that suit their priorities,” said Professor Solomon. “Leaders may also consider better ways to manage the greater demands encountered by their highly educated employees so that exploiting an organization’s greatest human capital does not backfire. For example, by removing incentives for employees to take on excessive work hours, organizations can avoid inadvertently pressuring employees to incur stress that undermines job satisfaction.”

“Many people pursue higher education to get a better job on paper, not realizing that this ‘better job’ isn’t actually better due to the unanticipated effects of demands and stress over time,” Solomon said. “It’s good for people to be realistic about the career paths they pursue and what they ultimately value.”

The study is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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