What Science Says About the Benefits of Learning

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I'm sure you know that learning new things can get you some better job prospects and therefore, a better financial situation, but did you know that there are so many other ways that learning improves your life, as well?

The benefits of learning affect a person's health, social well-being, mental health, family life, and even your longevity! The benefits of learning don’t just affect you individually, either. It can make the society you live in better as well. Here are some of the benefits of learning that have been validated by science.

Health Benefits

    • Increased Longevity

Did you know that learning new things is associated with a longer life span? It’s true! A study conducted in 2005 in the U.S. found that people who had even just one more year of education lived an average of 1.7 years longer than their counterparts.

Lleras-Muney, A. (2005). The relationship between education and adult mortality in the United States. Review of Economic Studies, Vol. 72.

    • Decrease in Smoking

Taking one or two non-accredited courses is estimated to increase the chances of giving up smoking by age 42 by a factor of well over one eighth (from 24% to 27.3%).

benefits of learning - smoking rate by education level 18 - What Science Says About the Benefits of Learning Smoking rates by education level
    • Better Health

A 2001 study conducted in the US studied people born between 1931 and 1941. The study found that an additional year of education was found to improve the probability of reporting good health from 81.0% to 84.4% for men, and from 79.5% to 84.3% for women.

James, K. (2001). Prescribing Learning: A Guide to Good Practice in Learning and Health. Leiceister, NIACE.

One study showed that 14% of adults who took one or two extra-curricular courses increased their sports/leisure memberships between the ages of 33 and 42, compared to the predicted 9 per cent of adults with similar characteristics who took no courses of any type. This added exercise was seen to improve health.

Feinstein, L., Hammond, C., Woods, L., Preston, J. and Bynner, J. (2003). The contribution of adult learning to health and social capital. (Research Report, No. 8). London: Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning.

    • Increased Mental Health

Several studies of that studied people with a history of mental health difficulties reported that participating in learning had positive effects on their mental health. In fact, some General Practitioners now prescribe education as a treatment for their patients. When evaluating these pilot programs, patients who engaged in education as part of their treatment reported a range of benefits associated with mental health and well-being

Adams, S.J. (2002). Educational attainment and health: evidence from a sample of older adults. Education Economics

People involved in adult education are less likely to be dissatisfied in midlife, more likely to be optimistic and less likely to use health services. Also, the benefits have shown to be even greater for educationally disadvantaged adults.

Preston, J. and Green, A. (2003). The macrosocial benefits of education, training and skills in comparative. (Research Report, No. 9). London: Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning

Learning can promote the development of capabilities, personal resources and skills – and resilience, which is the belief in one’s ability to deal with adverse situations. This is especially true with children. It also helps us to make informed decisions about behaviors that may affect our future health and happiness.

Learning new things increases a person’s positive self-concept which, in turn, promotes positive health behaviors and protects mental health. If an individual has a high regard for themselves generally and of their abilities in particular, they will consider themselves capable, be more inclined to persevere in the face of adversity, and take care of themselves not only in the here and now, but also in the future.

    • Decrease in Depression

High school graduates are less prone to depression than adults educated to grade 8 or below. Women graduates are 35% less likely to suffer from depression while the difference for men is even greater (55%).

Wilberforce, M, (2005). Graduate Market Trends. Higher Education Careers Services Unit.

Another study examined the effect of learning on older adults in the U.S. The researchers had the older people learn to play the piano for 4 months. The people who took piano lessons once a week reported a decrease in depression at the end of the 4-month period.

Mental health therapists in the U.S. are now using cooking lessons as therapy to relieve depression in several locations, and the results have shown that learning is effective in relieving the symptoms of depression.

benefits of learning - depression education level - What Science Says About the Benefits of Learning depression versus education level
    • Delay the Onset of Alzheimer's and Dementia

Learning is associated with delaying the onset of Alzheimer's. One study found that adults who learned a second language delayed the onset of dementia by 4.3 years and, for those with the disease, they functioned better longer. Their mental decline was slower than other Alzheimer patients who did not learn a second language.

Improved Parenting

Many studies have shown that when parents learn continually,
outcomes for their kids are better.

A 2006 study found a correlation between a child’s diet and their parents’ education level and knowledge of nutrition. In turn, the children’s educational success was directly affected by the parents’ choice to provide healthy nutrition

Currie, J. and Moretti, E. (2002). Mother's Education and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital: Evidence from College Openings and Longitudinal Data. National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 9360.

One study found a 12% decrease in the probability of low-birth-weight babies born between the 1940 and 1980, and a 20% decrease in the probability of premature birth which was attributed to increased maternal education.

Sorhaindo, A. and Feinstein, L. (2006). What is the relationship between child nutrition and school outcomes? (Research Report, No. 18). London: Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning.

Studies done in the UK found that men with the poorest literacy skills tended to lead a more solitary life and were less likely than other men to be fathers by their mid-30’s. Women with the same low levels of skills were also more likely to be without a partner at this age. However, they were more likely to be parents and often have large families. Women with the most basic level of skills were found to be more than twice as likely as women with Level 1 skills to have been a teenage mother and three times as likely to have four or more children by the age of 34 (11% to 3%).

Studies show that kids of parents who continually learn or have more education have better self-esteem and more resilience. Resilient children have a healthy sense of autonomy and purpose, as well as better social competence and problem-solving skills. This is likely to be affected by education. Resilience also has positive effects on physical and mental health. Reliance upon nicotine, alcohol and other addictive substances, as well as certain patterns of eating, are common responses to adversity and stressful conditions. Individuals who (through education) are more resilient may be inclined to respond in other ways which are less damaging to their physical health and possibly more effective in reducing levels of stress in the longer term.

Children whose parents value learning tend to do better in school. Parents with higher levels of education are more likely to have kids who succeed in academic settings.

Another key message is that children’s chances of educational success are significantly increased if they have parents who support their learning (this positive effect is seen, irrespective of the parents’ social class, education or wealth).

A family’s level of education has also been shown to improve communication within families. It can help reduce the occurrence, and consequences, of divorce. It can also help to discourage early parenthood and lead to more thought-out family planning choices.

benefits of learning - sat score graph 1 - What Science Says About the Benefits of Learning

Better Society

People who learn and get educated make better citizens. Racism declines, crime decreases, and a host of other benefits occur when people elevate their level of education.

  • Decreased Racism

People who learn more or get a higher education generally earn more and make a bigger financial contribution to society. It has been estimated, for example, that a student who completes high school in the US contributes approximately $209,000 more than someone who drops out of education. This total is made up of $139,000 in tax revenue, $40,500 in public health cost savings, $26,600 saved in law-enforcement and prison costs, and $3,000 in welfare savings.

Preston, J. and Feinstein, L. (2004). Adult education and attitude change. (Research Report, No. 11). London: Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning.

Researchers in one study estimated that adults who take between 3 and 10 extra-curricular courses raises racial tolerance by almost 75 per cent more than the predicted change in this attitude for similar adults. While adult education does not appear to change the attitudes of those with extreme racist-authoritarian views, it does seem to prevent individuals from adopting such extremist attitudes.

  • Less Crime

Studies show time and time again that, as education levels increase, crime decreases. A better-educated society is a more safe and satisfying society to live in.

One important US study estimated that a 10 percentage point rise in the rate of high school graduation would cut the murder (arrest) rate by between 14% and 27%. A 1-percentage point increase in the graduation rate would lead to a reduction in crime of between 34,000 and 68,000 offenses per year.

Lochner, L. & Moretti, E. (2001). The effect of education on crime: evidence from prison inmates, arrests and self-reports. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper, 8605.

The Crime Reducing Effect of Education

benefits of learning - crime versus education level - What Science Says About the Benefits of Learning Crime rate versus education level
  • More Participation in Society

Studies show that people who increase their education are more likely to actively participate in societal functions, making one's community a better place to live.

This study indicates that there has been a decline in societal participation in the U.S.during the last few decades, and the study indicates that it is correlated to a decrease in spending on education and educational programs.

There are so many positive benefits to learning. You should take time each day to learn new things, expand your horizons, learn new skills, and develop your abilities.

If you invest the time,
you will see benefits in every area of your life and in the lives of those around you, especially if you are a parent.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
What do you think?
What benefits do you think come from continually learning new things? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Michele Swensen is a writer and web designer who loves learning, animals, writing, reading, and playing the piano. She’s a member of Mensa and a college graduate.

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Here are some of the benefits we cover in this article that science has documented about the benefits of learning:

  • Health Benefits
    • Increased Longevity
    • Decreased Smoking Rates
    • Better Health
    • Increased Mental Health
    • Decrease in Depression
    • Delay the Onset of Alzheimer's and Dementia
  • Improved Parenting
  • Better Society
    • Decreased Racism
    • Less Crime
    • More Participation in Society

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