Degrees of frustration

Graduates are more dissatisfied with their careers than those who never went to university. Anat Arkin reports.

MORALE problems in the teaching profession have been well-documented, but a new study suggests an unusual explanation for job dissatisfaction - staff may simply be too well-educated.

Warwick University economists Andrew Oswald and Jonathan Gardner found that graduates were less satisfied with their jobs and more stressed than those who are less well-qualified.

Their work has important implications for managers who want to motivate teachers.

For people working similar hours for similar pay, the Warwick researchers found that job satisfaction declines with education. Men and women with no qualifications are most satisfied, and those with degrees least.

Professor Oswald blames the unrealistically high expectations of those leaving university: "Headteachers need to be aware that their staff, like a lot of highly-educated workers in Britain, probably think they haven't achieved as much in their working lives as they ought to have done. Coping with those dashed aspirations...(is) a key management issue."

The research that he and Dr Gardner have conducted shows that education generally has a positive impact on mental health. Also, the more educated you are the better your employment prospects and future earnings.

But their paper, which was presented at a National Institute of Economic and Social Research conference in Birmingham last week, also describes a U-shaped relationship between education and well-being.

Dissatisfaction does decline with each level of qualification but at degree level it increases.

High status, on the other hand, reduces stress and increases satisfaction. So, while heads and other senior staff have taxing jobs, they are probably more satisfied than, say, unskilled factory workers.

The Warwick University findings are based on a new analysis of the British Household Panel Survey, a poll of 5,000 households containing around 10,000 adults carried out every year between 1991 and 1999. This has information on earnings, education, employment and job satisfaction levels.

Those surveyed also completed the General Health Questionnaire, widely used by medical researchers to measure mental well-being, which asks 12 questions such as "Have you been thinking of yourself as a worthless person?"

Responses are scored from 0 to 3, with higher scores signifying higher mental distress. On this measure, people with intermediate qualifications such as A-levels feel less unhappy than those with degrees or without qualifications. Education also appears to have a bigger positive impact on women's mental well-being than men's.

Details of this research will soon be available on Andrew Oswald's website at

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