Taking a course in your 30s can help you give up smoking, make you more racially tolerant and reverse a general decline in life satisfaction, according to research.
Government departments should promote adult learning as a way of tackling these problems and of getting more people involved in civic life, suggests the report from the Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning at the Institute of Education and Birkbeck College.
Using data from a national cohort study of 10,000 people born in Britain in 1958, researchers compared the health behaviour and sociopolitical attitudes of adults who completed one or two courses between the ages of 33 and 42, with those of participants who took none.
Adult learners benefited on nine of 12 outcomes. Those who completed courses were more likely to make healthier lifestyle choices, such as giving up smoking and exercising more often. They were also more likely to join organisations and to vote.
Lead researcher Leon Feinstein said that while adult education should by no means override the government's focus on schools and higher education "it's about the balance. Adult learning offers very real long-term possibilities and benefits."
Experiences of some adult learners not associated with the study support its findings.
Craig Thompson, 42, of Harlow, Essex, found that pursuing an MBA helped him decide to quit smoking.
"I couldn't balance trying to improve my standard of living with ruining my standard of living by smoking," he said. "Those two things just didn't fit together."
For Glyn Marsh, 40, completing an MBA through the Open University motivated him to increase his involvement in his local school in Middleton Cheney, Northamptonshire, giving him skills and the self-assurance to become chair of governors.
The study found that different courses could be related to different benefits. Academic courses seemed to correspond to increased social and political involvement, and leisure courses were related to improved health behaviours and sociopolitical benefits.