Naumanen Päivi

Koulutuksella kilpailukykyä. Koulutuksen yhteys miesten ja naisten työllisyyteen ja työn sisältöön.

Education as a Market Resource. The link between education and both men's and women's employment and work


English summary


Research questions

During the past few decades, education has gained increasing importance for citizens competing on the labour market. Education and qualifications are an investment and a capital that can be exchanged for many of the other well being resources that are generally considered desirable. A qualification is, however, only one resource among others. Its value is always realised in relation to the holder’s age, gender, ethnic background, social network and so on.

In my research, I studied men’s and women’s education as a resource on the labour market. In this view education is examined from two directions: firstly, how does a qualification influence the success of men and women going from basic vocational education to the labour market and how does it influence their working life; and secondly does a person’s standing on the market and at work relate to the demand for further education among men and women in working life. The research task is to analyse these two-way connections, and on the basis of the analysis, to make decisions about education as a resource for Finnish men and women.

The research questions are the following:

  1. To what extent does a qualification or degree help men and women to succeed in the labour market, when success is measured by the dimensions of market situation and work content?
  2. To what extent does a qualification or degree help men and women to succeed in different economic and employment conditions, in the years 1990 and 1995?
  3. To what extent do men and women succeeding to different degrees – in different market and work situations – believe in education as a resource for success? How willing are they to participate in further studies in order to succeed on the market and at work?

The material for the study consisted of interviews on adult education carried out by Statistics Finland in the years 1990 and 1995. At the times in question the economic situation and the labour market prospects differed considerably: the former period was still the peak of a boom, while the latter fell in a post-recession period.

Education as a resource for market capacity

There are two theoretical and methodological assumptions on which the research is based: the first is the concept of the working citizen i.e. the idea that success on the labour market and at work is one of the central factors giving structure to the activities and lives of Finnish men and women; the other is the idea that education is one of the resources making success possible or in fact a prerequisite for success. The latter point is not only an assumption, but actually an important research question: to what extent or what kind of a resource is education from the perspective of men’s and women’s success?

Working citizenship is still an important normative criterion defining the membership of an individual in a community. The individual’s fitness for and "value" as a full member of his or her community is measured and evaluated very much on the basis of their success in the economy and on the market; on how well they succeed in the labour market as a seller of a work input and how well they succeed as a performer of work. Since wage-earning work has become the norm, this criterion has come to apply to both men and women – although in different ways and with different intensity. However, in Finland, success on the labour market and the acquisition of the education required for this are at least as important goals – if not more important – for women as for men. I base this claim on the fact that in Finland, women’s subsistence has never strongly depended on the male as a breadwinner, but rather on earning her living by her own work, her own economic input. But in Finland, too, the measure of success of the "wage-earning mother", or the actor carrying the responsibility for parenthood, probably deviates from the model built on the abstraction of the working citizen stripped of all social bonds. Parallel to the goals of employability, continuity of livelihood and meaningful work content, there arises the goal of reconciling "good" work and "good" parenthood. The crucial deficiency and methodological problem of the research lies in the fact that, in analysing the success of the genders, I cannot make use of parenthood, caring, or any other of the theoretical concepts normally used in describing the quality of women’s work.

As remaining and succeeding on the labour market becomes an increasingly rigorous obligation for the individual, the "exchange value" of education – that is the role of education as a stake in the game – may also be emphasised. In this research I study the issues involved from four angles or methods of analysis, by means of which education has traditionally been analysed in terms of success on the labour market: human capital, cultural capital, credentials and resources. Of these I have chosen as the umbrella concept for my research the term "resource", because it takes a broader perspective than the other terms and makes it possible to deal with education as a productive, social and political resource. My primary objective is not to show what mechanism or function operates between work and education, but to study empirically to what extent education improves the opportunities for men and women on the market and at work in relation to the opportunities they have or would have without education. In the resource perspective, education can also be thought of – as has traditionally been done in the welfare theory approach – as a convertible or exchangeable resource, in which case it may represent for actors on the labour market a potential opportunity or a means for acquiring new and different types of resources.

In my research I have analysed what kind of a resource education represents for men and women in their struggle to secure and improve their market capacity on the market for wage-earning work. It is from the perspective of wage-earning citizenship that education can be seen as an individual’s investment in market capacity, i.e. in access to the best possible negotiating position, from which it is possible to attain an advantageous market standing and meaningful work. The concept of market capacity is a usable one in this context, because it helps us to understand education as an investment with a view in particular to exchange on the labour market. The concept of market capacity is a kind of abstraction of the reasons why on the one hand those aspiring to the labour market, and on the other those already on the labour market, acquire vocational qualifications and further education. Thus education is considered in its capacity as a factor that either promotes or prevents the sale of a "labour commodity". As long as labour (or the work input it offers) is an exchangeable "commodity" on the market, the education acquired by labour will also have this characteristic

But the concept of market capacity is useful in another way too. With the help of this concept (and included in it), I can give consideration, not only to market situations, but also to attributes relating to the content of work describing the quality of the use of labour, which have not traditionally – at least in labour market research – been analysed as indicators of success in the same way as employability, wages or placing in socio-economic positions. The content-related characteristics of work are, nevertheless, at least as important as the above-mentioned factors with a view to success on the labour market. A challenging and personality-developing job that offers possibilities for variety, participation and responsibility as well as esteem and feedback, is meaningful, not only for the subjectively experienced well-being of the work performer, but also in the sense that it serves his or her interests as a seller of a work input. The worker’s learning and accumulation of competence depend very much on the content-related characteristics of the work. The worker’s competence may be one condition for the success of their employer, but it must be seen as important above all from the perspective of the worker’s future negotiating position. The worker’s competence will probably help him or her to keep the job and to compete for new meaningful vacancies on the labour market. A secondary question is, then, to what extent there is actually a demand and need for this kind of competence in working life. The architects of the learning and knowledge-intensive society predict at any rate that the ability to use what has been learned and competence at work will become more important criteria of success than qualifications.

In the present study, the indicator of market capacity is men’s and women’s success on the labour market in two senses; first of all in the sense of how they rate their own market situation measured in terms of employment, its stability, strength and opportunities for mobility; and secondly in the sense of how they assess their work processes, the nature of their work and the work community measured by the dimensions of qualifying opportunities, the amount of self-determination and the quality of interpersonal relations. I do not set up the criteria for "good" work according to the characteristics of their work that the interviewees consider meaningful; the criteria are rather based on the theory of work sociology and on accumulated empirical research data. On the basis of this research material, it can be concluded that it is the intellectual demands of the work, the self-determination at work, the work load and the social relations at work that mark the worker: work that is good in these respects creates general capacity to act, while work that is limiting limits the opportunities for development of the whole personality. Today work that is without meaningful content is not attractive; people, especially those with education, generally aim at work that offers opportunities for personal and social development. But as stated above, this kind of personality-developing work is not only important for the personal well-being of the worker or as a channel for self-fulfilment, but in times of increasing uncertainty, it can become an increasingly concrete way of ensuring that the employment continues and the person concerned remains on the labour market.

As the aim of the research is to analyse the opportunities that education offers men and women on the labour market and at work in relation to the opportunities they have or would have without education, my primary task is to examine the differences between men and between women, i.e. the differences within the groups of men and of women, rather than differences between the genders. I therefore compare men and women mainly as regards the extent to which education (level of qualification or degree) differentiates their success in each dimension. At the same time, but as a secondary theme, I examine to what extent there are gender-based differences as regards the level of education. The conclusions arising from these two different bases for comparison on education as a resource for men and women will either converge or diverge.

Comparison of the differences between men and between women show that even though men succeeded better in most dimensions than women with equal education, the differences depending on level of education were many times greater among women than among men. If we want to stress the gender-bound differences in this research, the conclusion to be drawn from the above is that education benefits men more than it does women, because with the same educational level men do better than women. If, on the other hand, we want to stress the differences between men and between women and on this basis compare the genders, the conclusion is that education is a more significant resource for women than it is for men, because in relation to women with less education, women with more education are in a better position than men with the same level of education. In this research I want to stress the latter view, that is to compare the success of the more highly educated men and women primarily with that of the less educated men and women.

Education and market situation in 1990 and 1995

The extent to which education helps men and women to succeed in the labour market varies to some extent according to what the criterion or indicator of success we are investigating is. The connection between the dimensions to be analysed is not necessarily a one-way connection, far less a straightforward connection in the sense that a longer education is always bound to improve the person’s market and work opportunities compared with a shorter education.

If the market capacity afforded by education is expressed by how much the education improves employability, i.e. the opportunities for getting a job, we can say on the basis of the results of the adult education survey that in the mid-1990’s education was somewhat more significant for women than it was for men. Women’s participation in the labour force, employment and participation in full-time wage-earning work were on average more tightly tied to the level of education than was the case with men. The more highly educated women participated in the work mediated on the labour market, found employment and worked full-time more often and were unemployed for shorter periods than those with a lower level of education. It goes without saying that men’s education also had significance for the employment and duration of unemployment of men, but the differentiating effect was not so clear measured by these dimensions as it was for women. Compared with the situation at the beginning of the decade, the tie between education and participation in the labour market and employment was closer, more clearly so among women than among men.

If, on the other hand, stability, strength and certainty of employment are taken as the indicators of the market capacity afforded by education, it can be said that in the mid-1990’s, education did not improve the opportunities for success as clearly – for men and especially not for women – as it improved employability. On the basis of the adult education surveys it can be concluded that the more education a women has, the more likely it is that she will work in a temporary or fixed-term employment, whereas fixed-term employment among men was not usually affected at all by the level of qualification gained – and if it was, the change was in the opposite direction. Also, measured by experience of repeated periods of unemployment and threats of unemployment, the "added value" brought by education in terms of women’s success was distinctly less than might be expected on the basis of information about their employability. The results of logistic regression analysis show that for those who had acquired qualifications, the possibilities of achieving a stable work career were on average actually poorer than for those who had taken no further training, but that among educated women, the relative opportunities were even worse than for educated men.

The decrease in significance of qualifications from the point of view of stable employment did not, however, affect all educated men and women equally, but mainly the younger members of the groups. Among women, those in the worst position from the point of view of attaining a favourable market standing – in terms of both stable employment and good advancement opportunities – were the young women with a high level of education, whereas among men it was most often the young men with an intermediate level qualification whose employment stability suffered. In terms of good career prospects, however, young men with higher education did best.

Generally it can be said that in poor economic and employment situations, academic or other qualifications were more often a condition for obtaining employment than previously, but increasingly seldom were they alone enough to guarantee the holder of the qualifications stable, long-term, certain employment. Education of equal length by no means afforded equal market capacity to all, independent of gender or age, at the end of the previous decade either, but in the poor economic and employment situation, the significance of education became more and more conditional on the impacts of other factors, such as age and gender. In a market characterised by recession and high unemployment, the main finding as regards the change in the relationship between education and the success of men and women is that the market situation for young women with higher education deteriorated substantially – and was more often unfavourable than for others – whether favourable market situation was measured in terms of stability of career, long-term employment relationships, certainty of the continuity of the employment or good career prospects.

Education and meaningful work in 1990 and 1995

The significance of education from the point of view of meaningful work content is a considerably more complex issue than its significance for obtaining employment and attaining a favourable market situation. With or without academic or other qualifications, employees have far fewer opportunities to influence the content of the
work they do than to influence their employability. Nevertheless, on the basis of this study, qualifications seem to have some influence on how men and women rate their work processes and the quality of their work measured by the dimensions of qualifying opportunities, self-determination and the quality of inter-personal relations.

If the market capacity afforded by education expresses how men and women rate the content of their work as measured by the dimensions of qualifying opportunities, self-determination, variety, participation, empowerment and social support, we can conclude that education had more significance for men’s work than for women’s. On average, in the mid-1990’s, academic or other qualifications helped men more than women to attain a "meaningful" level in their work, at least in terms of the qualifying opportunities of the work, and autonomy of content and control. In terms of self-determination of the work process, men had better opportunities than women regardless of their qualifications. Only the dimension of social support deviated from the main trend in that qualifications – conditional, however, on age – were more significant for women’s work than for men’s.

The relationship between qualifications or degree and the content-related dimensions of work was linked to age for both genders, but generally in opposite directions. While qualifications as a general rule improved men’s opportunities at a younger age, the possibilities for women to do more meaningful work only improved with age and accumulated work experience.

As was the case with the quality of employment – its stability and certainty – the significance of education or degree for the content of work based on evaluation of its quality mainly diminished in the early 1990’s. Compared to the pre-recession period, academic or other qualifications did not with any great certainty guarantee that those who had acquired them would work in jobs that could be called meaningful as regards the use of their labour input. In this view the market capacity provided by education of both longer duration (higher) and shorter duration (intermediate) decreased. However, the decline in the significance of qualifications did not affect all educated wage earners equally; among men it more often affected older educated persons and among women younger educated persons.

On the basis of assessments of the content of work, in poor economic and employment situations, young women with higher education suffer the most in terms of meaningfulness of work. Even though young women with higher education kept their lead over those with less education as far as qualifying work was concerned, the lead was substantially narrower compared with the pre-recession period. As well as more qualifying work, the young women with higher education also lost ground as regards opportunities for work with a highly varied content, socially very supportive work and work allowing participation and empowerment.

All in all, on the basis of the findings of the adult education surveys concerning the labour market opportunities of men and women, at least two conclusions can be drawn. Firstly, although the significance of education as regards employability and perhaps mobility generally speaking grew in the years of recession and mass unemployment, the quality of employment as regards its stability and strength and the content-related meaningfulness of the work, the "added value" brought by education was no longer so certain as it had been at the end of the 1980’s. In the mid-1990s, academic or other qualifications were no longer as likely as before to help their holders to succeed in the labour market when success is measured by criteria describing the use of the labour input. If this line of development can be
seen as an indication of a growth in the significance of education as a credential, we can say that credentialism grew stronger in Finland in the 1990’s, especially on the labour market for women. Secondly, the impact of education was strongly linked with age, but the age linkage was differentiated according to the gender of the person who had acquired the education, and in such a way that among men it was usually the younger men with higher education who succeeded best, while among women, the young women with intermediate level education and the older women with higher education both succeeded better than young women with higher education. Measured by the criteria of both quality of employment and meaningfulness of content, the relative possibilities of young women with higher education to succeed in the labour market were clearly poorer than those of all the other groups.

Further education as a market resource in 1995

The significance of education for success in working life is reflected not only in how much education factually improves the relative chances of actors on the labour market, but also in how much the actors themselves acquire education or believe in its usefulness. One indicator of the actors’ belief in education as a resource is the willingness they express to participate in vocational or professional further education. In this respect women seem to have more confidence in education as a labour market resource than men. In 1995, according to the adult education survey, women believed in further education more often than men, especially in its power to promote professional advancement and as a resource for improving competence.

All in all, the willingness and motivation of labour market participants to study were strongly linked with the dimensions shaping their market and employment standing. The factors relating to work content – above all the qualifying opportunities of the work and autonomy of content and control – were of crucial significance for the motivation of wage-earners were motivated to participate in professional self-development. The more the work involved opportunities "charged" with these dimensions, the higher the percentages of those interested in studies aiming at professional development. The poorer the opportunities attributed to the work, the lower the percentages of those interested in further education. Those men and women whose work was exceptionally challenging and rewarding, whose work involved many opportunities for variety of content and self-determination, and for influencing planning and decision-making, showed markedly more enthusiasm for professional self-development through study.

The greatest interest in further studies aimed at ensuring employability was experienced by the unemployed and those wage-earners who felt very threatened by unemployment, and who had fixed-term or temporary jobs. Study aimed primarily at avoiding unemployment or keeping a job gives the message that education is seen rather as an essential or as an "emergency measure" than as a real choice in which current and future employment and market opportunities are weighed up. The percentage of those who are interested in study as a way to improve their employability increased considerably, especially among men who were afraid of losing their jobs.

Education as a means of improving the market situation was most often the goal for the unemployed and the wage-earners who did work that qualified them poorly. The desire for change can be regarded as being the stronger, the less the person experiences their current work or situation as satisfying. While women were "pushed" towards studies aimed at change by poorly qualifying work and, on the other hand, they were "tempted" by good career prospects, men’s desire for change was more clearly linked with the uncertainty and insecurity of their situation. Of the men without a qualification or degree, those who sought to improve their situation through further education were those doing part-time, fixed-term or poorly qualifying work, while of the educated men, those most interested in change were those who were afraid of losing their jobs, those in fixed-term employment, those who had been repeatedly unemployed and those who judged that they received little social support from their work. On average, men with higher education were nevertheless the second least interested, after those with no qualifications, in further studies as a way of changing their market situation. Of the whole group of wage-earners, the most interested potential students hoping to change their situation were women with intermediate level schooling doing unchallenging work that offered few opportunities for development.

With a view to the aims of life-long learning programmes, special importance should be given to the finding that the role of content-related aspects of work in arousing motivation for learning and self-development was the greater, the less education the person in question had. Especially considering the professional development of the men with less education, the qualifying opportunities of the work and autonomy of content and control were the dimensions that seemed to be the most critical. An interesting finding was also that women’s motivation for professional development was very strongly linked with their employment opportunities: those women who rated their employment opportunities as better than average were without exception – regardless of education – more interested than others in studying for professional development. Women’s investment in developing themselves professionally seems to be more closely linked than men’s to the prospects of mobility on the market.

Translated by Rosemary Mackenzie