Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business
higher education can lead to higher stress and lower job satisfaction, especially for women

Higher Education May Not Mean Increased Job Satisfaction

New study shows that while more education leads to better pay, it also means higher-stress jobs

Rachel Muenz

Rachel Muenz, managing editor for G2 Intelligence, can be reached at

ViewFull Profile.
Learn about ourEditorial Policies.
Register for free to listen to this article
Listen with Speechify

Higher education may lead to higher pay and resources in your job, but you aren’t likely to be any happier than those in lower-paying fields, according to new research soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Researchers from the University of Notre Dame found that while individuals with higher education have greater job variety, autonomy, and income, those jobs tend to be more demanding and stressful, essentially balancing out the benefits of education. Another key finding was that educated women in particular, faced a greater negative impact on job satisfaction than their male counterparts.

Get training in Creating an Environment of Success and earn CEUs.One of over 25 IACET-accredited courses in the Academy.
Creating an Environment of Success Course

To explore the effect of education on job satisfaction, the researchers reviewed recent research on job satisfaction and included samples data sets from Britain and Australia. This first study involved using “a meta-analytic technique on 74 independent samples since the year 2000,” revealing almost no connection between job satisfaction and education, the researchers write. 

Assuming there was more to this finding, they conducted a second study using the job demands-resources model, which states that when job demands are high and resources low, employee burnout and stress increase. Here, they used the same Australian data set from their initial study.

Through further testing, they found that while education can increase job satisfaction due to higher pay, increased flexibility, and more rewarding work, it also decreases job satisfaction because of increased stress and job demands.

“Ultimately, the indirect net effect of education on job satisfaction (via demands alone and via demands and stress) is negative,” the researchers write. “Thus, these findings suggest that those with higher education experience somewhat lower job satisfaction, in part, because of the greater job demands they encounter and thus more stressful working conditions.”

Greater negative impact to women

The researchers also found that this negative effect of education on job satisfaction was greater in women than men.

“Our results also indicate that highly educated women are more likely to earn higher income and experience greater job variety than their male counterparts,” they write. “But they report significantly less autonomy, greater qualitative demands—which is associated with greater job stress—and more hours worked.”

Educated self-employed workers more satisfied

In addition, the researchers looked at highly educated self-employed individuals and found that while these workers earned less money, experienced less flexibility and variety, and had slightly greater demands in their jobs, they worked fewer hours and were more satisfied overall than wage-employed individuals.

“Altogether, compared to their wage-employed counterparts, those in self-employment seem to be more insulated from the adverse effects of education on job stress and satisfaction,” the researchers write.

Key takeaways for managers and employees

While the researchers admit more investigation is needed and that exploring education and job satisfaction alone may be misleading, they say their work does provide some important considerations for employees and managers.

To help ensure greater job satisfaction when deciding whether to accept a job offer, employees will want to more closely consider:

  • Tradeoffs such as more stressful, time-sensitive work, longer hours worked, etc.
  • What their priorities are
  • Does the job fit their values?

To help ensure their employees are happy with their jobs, managers can:

  • Explore ways to help their staff better cope with greater demands at work
  • Limit number of hours worked
  • Ensure adequate separation between work and personal time

“We do not suggest avoiding higher education to achieve higher job satisfaction,” the researchers conclude. “Rather, while our indirect effects are relatively small, a realistic calculation of trade-offs between desirable working conditions and experiences of stress and job satisfaction may still help workers make decisions that suit their priorities or recalibrate their values.”