Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Lifelong Learning and Technology

8. In addition to socio-economic class, there are differences in adult learning with respect to race and ethnicity

African Americans and Hispanics are less likely than whites to engage in personal or professional learning

In addition to the class differences in the incidence of personal and professional learning, there are also differences associated with race and ethnicity. African Americans and Hispanics are less likely to say they have pursued personal learning activities in the prior year by margins that differ significantly from white adults. The differences for professional learning are less pronounced for African Americans, though still substantial for Hispanics.

Some of the differences for African Americans and Hispanics come from the fact that, on average, they are more likely to have lower incomes and levels of educational attainment than whites. The class-based differences identified previously, in other words, are generally more prevalent for African Americans and Hispanics. In this survey, 32% of white adults have college degrees or more, while 18% of African Americans say this and 12% of Hispanics do. Similarly, one quarter (25%) of white adults report living in households with annual incomes of $30,000 or less, compared to half of African Americans (49%) and Hispanics (51%).

Nonetheless, for personal learning, the differences for both African Americans and Hispanics compared to whites are significant when taking into account levels of income and education. In other words, even African Americans and Hispanics with lower educational levels are less likely to engage in personal learning than whites with the same educational levels. These patterns are not evident for professional learning, where (when controlling for income and education) there are no significant difference in professional learning that can be traced to race and ethnicity.

Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to have done their personal learning in physical places

For Hispanics, language has a lot to do with adult learning. Overall, 15% of respondents to the October-November 2015 survey identify as Hispanic and about four-in-ten chose to take the survey in Spanish, suggesting that English is not the primary language for these respondents. The differences for personal learning among Hispanics who took the survey in Spanish compared to those who took it in English are striking: 73% of Hispanics who took the survey in English participated in the activities we classified as personal learning, compared with 44% of the Hispanics who took the survey in Spanish who classified as personal learners.

Whites are more likely to have used the internet for personal learning

The differences for African Americans are also well worth examining. They trail white adults by a 15 percentage-point margin for personal learning (79% to 64%), while the difference is smaller for professional learning. Some 59% of employed African Americans have pursued professional learning in the past year, compared to 65% of whites.

In addition to lower levels of personal learning for Hispanics and African Americans, there are differences in how they pursue it relative to white adults. In general, learners who are Hispanic or African American are a bit more likely than whites to rely on institutions such as community centers, places of worship or libraries. By contrast, they are generally less reliant on online courses or just using the internet for some part of their personal learning.

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