Can too much education be bad for you?

In my post on graduates in the labour market, commenter Russell was keen to defend his thesis that education is valuable, even when it is hard to point to any advantage gained. But could over-education be worse than not actually producing any benefits? Could it be making life worse for the over-educated?

I took a look at the 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes to see how use of abilities/qualifications at work was linked to various other questions in the survey (I would have used the 2005 survey, except the site was playing up). I was looking at all workers, not just university graduates.

There were clear differences on job satisfaction. Among those who thought they were using their abilities/qualifications at work, only 4% were clearly dissatisfied with their jobs (which I defined as rating themselves between 0 and 5 on a 0 to 10 job satisfaction scale). But among those who thought they were not using their abilities/qualifications, 28% were dissatisfied.

This seemed to spillover into financial dissatisfaction. Of those not using their abilities/qualifications, 29% said they were finding it difficult or very difficult to manage on their current household income, compared to 13% of the appropriately qualified group. Optimism about the future was also affected, with 40% of the over-educated believing that people like themselves had a good chance of improving their standard of living, compared to 55% of the appropriately educated group.

The over-educated were more prone to unhappiness as well, with 22% below 6 on the 0-10 happiness scale, compared to 10% among those who thought they were using their abilities/qualifications at work.

I found only one indicator on which the over-educated appeared to be better off – they were less likely to report their work interfering with their family/personal life (31% compared to 40%).
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