Learning and wellbeing: measurement and analysis in the National Child Development Survey (NCDS) and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA)

14th March 2012 18:00

There is a long tradition amongst health researchers and social scientists of seeking to define and understand ‘successful ageing’ and the topic has become more prominent as demographic ageing has increasingly been identified as a major issue in developed societies. Successful ageing is usually defined in terms of the maintenance of physical health, and social and psychological wellbeing. It can be hypothesised that learning has a role to play in maintaining the wellbeing of older adults. Learning may contribute to updating skills which help to keep people in employment. For older adults who are post-work, i.e. in retirement, learning can be part of the active use of their free time and it may encourage participation in the social life of the community.

While there is some qualitative research on the learning of older adults, to date quantitative evidence on the ‘wider’ (i.e. non-economic) benefits of learning has overwhelmingly focussed only on young adults. Yet in an ageing society such as the UK there is also a need to understand the role of learning in the lives of older adults.

In this presentation we first discuss how wellbeing can be conceptualised and measured, focusing on instruments which have been developed specifically to measure the wellbeing of people aged 50-plus. We then seek to identify the effects of participation in learning on the subjective wellbeing of older adults. Data from two major longitudinal surveys, the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the National Child Development Study (NCDS) will be used for this purpose. ELSA is a large-scale, nationally representative survey of those aged 50 and above. The National Child Development Study (NCDS). This contains information on all those born in Britain in a week in 1958. Follow-up data collection has taken place at various points in childhood and adulthood, most recently at age 50 as respondents entered their ‘Third Age’. Each survey contains data on subjective wellbeing and information on various types of learning. As both ELSA and NCDS are longitudinal, we can investigate the effects of learning on subsequent wellbeing after controlling for a wide range of other factors. Multiple regression analyses are used to investigate the impact of learning on wellbeing outcomes. The findings provide new information about participation in learning by older adults and the benefits of learning for their individual wellbeing. We also consider whether some types of learning are more beneficial than others.