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The findings show that individuals are more likely to feel that their life is worthwhile when they have completed a higher education qualification. Graduates also tend to measure their lives higher in terms of overall happiness than non-graduates.

The analysis also indicates that graduates are more resilient to divorce, ill-health and unemployment than non-graduates. During these life events, graduates maintain greater levels of personal wellbeing than those who do not hold higher education qualifications. For example, graduates with very poor health are 15 per cent less anxious than non-graduates with similarly poor health.

While graduates tend to be more satisfied with their lives and happier than non-graduates, on average they also tend to be more anxious than people whose highest qualification is a GCSE, A-level or equivalent. This higher level of anxiety is more pronounced for graduates living in London after they have finished their studies.

The report finds that the levels of wellbeing for graduates and non-graduates in the same occupations is very similar. For example, teaching professionals have generally very high levels of life satisfaction regardless of their qualifications.

However, it is important to note that many jobs require higher education qualifications, which suggests that access to certain occupations may explain a large part of graduates’ increased wellbeing over non-graduates.

Further research is required to understand exactly how higher education qualifications link with wellbeing, life satisfaction, happiness and anxiety. HEFCE will continue to analyse these interactions.

HEFCE’s Chief Executive, Madeleine Atkins, said:

‘This new analysis highlights the broad positive effects that higher education has on an individual’s life. It shows that the value for money of a higher education qualification extends to greater personal benefits and an increased sense of worth, which graduates carry with them long after they finish their studies. The findings highlight the need to extend focus beyond employability and income (important as they are) to understand fully the positive impact of higher education.’

Notes

  1. The analysis uses the Office for National Statistics’ Annual Population Survey April 2015-March 2016 and includes all respondents between the ages of 22 and 64.
  2. Higher education is defined for the purposes of this report as any qualification at Level 4 or above on Ofqual’s Regulated Qualifications Framework.
  3. These findings cannot be interpreted as the causal effect of graduation on wellbeing. It is possible that the effects are caused by people with greater wellbeing being more likely to gain a higher education qualification.
  4. These findings complement existing studies on wellbeing and happiness.
  5. The report, ‘The wellbeing of graduates' (HEFCE 2017/31), is available on the HEFCE website.
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