Quantitative and qualitative findings on barriers to participation in adult education are reviewed and some of the defining parameters that may explain observed national differences are considered. A theoretical perspective based on bounded agency is put forth to take account of the interaction between structurally and individually based barriers to participation. The model is premised on the assumption that the nature of welfare state regimes can affect a person's capability to participate. In particular, the state can foster broad structural conditions relevant to participation and construct targeted policy measures that are aimed at overcoming both structurally and individually based barriers. Features of the Nordic model of adult education and empirical results from the 2003 Eurobarometer are discussed in relation to this theoretical perspective.