Hard-to-reach groups would benefit most from adult learning

In a highly digitalised world, women and men need a wide range of knowledge, skills and opportunities, and to keep developing them throughout life. Without the right skills, both women and men are likely to end up in poor-quality jobs, to be unemployed or to be underqualified to exploit new career opportunities (European Commission, 2015b).

Yet only 17 % of women and 16 % of men older than 15 years of age were in formal or informal education or training in the EU in 2019 – despite a small overall increase since 2010. The highest rates of adult learning in 2019 were among women and men aged between 15 and 24 years (74 % and 69 %, respectively), as most were still in formal education (Figure 12).

However, these figures are significantly lower among those aged 25–49 years, to 15 % for women and 12 % for men. Among women and men approaching or in retirement, learning rates are in single digits.

Older people, economically inactive women and men, and people lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills are hard-to-reach groups for adult learning policies, although they could benefit the most. According to an OECD survey of adult skills in 17 EU Member States (OECD, 2013), one in five adults has a low level of literacy, while one in four has a low level of numeracy.

Targeted adult learning policies improving basic skills would have positive outcomes for economic growth and competitiveness, increase inclusive and active citizenship, reduce social inequality and improve mental and physical health (European Commission, 2015a).

Figure 12. Participation of women and men in formal or non-formal training, by family composition, age, education level and country of birth (%, 15+ years, EU, 2019)
Source: Authors’ calculation, EU-LFS.

One in five respondents to a FRA Roma pilot survey in 11 EU Member States reported that they could neither read nor write. Portugal (35 %), Romania (31 %) and France (25 %) had similarly high rates. In all 11 participating EU countries, more Roma women than men said that they could not read or write, with illiteracy rates especially high among women aged 45 years older.