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Being more educated may not make you more satisfied with your job, study finds

You might wind up with better job benefits, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be happier

Photo (c) Vera Kevresan EyeEm - Getty Images
A lot of factors can make consumers feel fulfilled by their jobs, but a new study suggests that formal education may not be one of them. 

According to researchers from Notre Dame University, consumers who complete higher levels of education are likely to obtain jobs that offer higher salaries and better benefits, but those things don’t equate to job satisfaction

“Our study shows people who have invested in formal education do not tend to be more satisfied in their jobs,” said researcher 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.” 

What leads to job satisfaction?

To determine what role education plays in job satisfaction, the researchers analyzed several earlier studies that have spanned the last two decades. They looked at education and job satisfaction from several different angles and identified key factors that come into play when determining what leads to fulfillment at work. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that education alone isn’t likely to yield job satisfaction. While consumers with formal education are more likely to earn higher salaries, the job demands outweigh the benefits. 

However, it’s interesting to note that being self-employed, while also having higher levels of education, was associated with greater job satisfaction. The researchers attribute this to greater autonomy over workplace decisions. They noted that self-employment also comes with more freedom than a traditional work environment. 

“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,” said Solomon. “We believe illuminating this boundary condition is notable for the educated and organizations that value and want to retain their educated employees.” 

On the other hand, the researchers found that educated women were less likely to feel satisfied in their roles at work than educated men, which the researchers speculate could be because of long-standing gender disparities in the workplace. 

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

Finding a work-life balance

The researchers hope these findings don’t deter consumers from seeking higher education, but they say people should realize what a more demanding position at their job will look like in terms of their lives outside of work. The team says job satisfaction should always play a role when it comes to applying for a new position. 

“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 Solomon. “It’s good for people to be realistic about the career paths they pursue and what they ultimately value.” 

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