Education takes more time as work shrinks

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The Independent Online
Britons are becoming better qualified, retiring or having to give up work earlier, and spending longer in education, according to the latest edition of Social Trends, writes Nicholas Timmins.

But despite an educational and work revolution which is tending to shorten working lives while the population ages, young people still quit formal education much more quickly than in many competitor countries. Education is starting earlier. More than half of three- and four-year-olds now attend school full- or part-time, compared with one-fifth 25 years ago.

The proportion staying on at school past 16 has almost doubled since 1980, and there has been a "spectacular" growth in the number of 18-year- olds entering further and higher education. In the three years to 1993- 94 the number of full-time students increased more than 40 per cent in higher education and 50 per cent in further education - increases greater than over the whole of the previous decade.

But despite such dramatic growth, the UK still lags behind other countries. By 18, barely half are still in education against four-fifths in France and Germany. In addition, more than one-third of UK participants are part- time when in other countries education and training is almost all full- time.

As education lengthens, however, working life, particularly for men, is being squeezed at the other end. Only a fraction more than half (51 per cent) of men aged 60 to 64 now work, against four out of five in 1971, and the proportion is expected to fall below a half by 2000.

Some of the dramatic decline reflects earlier retirement made possible by the growth of occupational pension schemes. But some is forced retirement. Older workers - along with the young - are the most likely to be made redundant. And once out of a job, older workers are the least likely to get back into one. Of men unemployed for a year, about 60 per cent of those aged 50 to 64 had been out of work for a year or more compared with 45 per cent of those aged 20 to 29. "Redundancy is a real fear among people," Social Trends records, even though redundancy rates have fallen in recent years.

The changed work patterns have also brought a marked shift in people's attitudes over the role of trade unions. Seven years ago, in 1989, 28 per cent of those questioned listed improving pay as the most important thing they thought trade unions should do. By 1994, that had changed dramatically. More than twice as many (37 per cent) wanted unions to concentrate on protecting jobs, against 15 per cent listing improving pay as their most important task. That change was also reflected in more than twice as many union members saying they believed unions should have a larger say over management's long term plans. "Job security is seen as a major concern," the report says.

But while work is shrinking for men, it is rising for women, a reflection of more part-time jobs, but also women having fewer children, delaying having them and are more likely to return to work after having a child.

9 Social Trends 1996. HMSO; pounds 35.95