Social mobility and graduate earnings IFS report

I’ve just been perusing the recently released and lengthily titled report from the IFS  How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background.  It’s interesting because it uses a big data approach tracking the student cohorts between 1998–2011.   For the record the published research from the IFS used anonymised tax data from HMRC and student loan records for 260,000 students up to ten years after graduation.

For a shorter summary the Guardian have also ran a piece based on the report “Richer students have higher graduate income, study finds”.

My own particular interest stems from two related angles.  Firstly I graduated from a post 92 university in 2001 so therefore would have been included in this data set and secondly as a careers practitioner with an interest and view on social mobility.

In many respects the report summary and article are depressing reads. Although there are a couple of exceptions with regards to graduate v non-graduate earnings and the rise in student numbers.

I’ve included a brief snapshot taken from the summary report:

Differences in earnings by parental income

“Graduates from richer family backgrounds earn significantly more after graduation than other graduates, even after completing similar degrees from similar universities. The average gap in earnings at the median between students from higher-income households and the rest was £8,000 (£5,300) a year for males (females), ten years after graduation”.

“Even after taking account of subject studied and the characteristics of the institution of study, the average student from a higher-income background still earned about 10% more than the other students at the median”.

If we were left in any doubt about the impact of family background has on future earnings we do not need to look far:

“the 10% highest-earning male (female) graduates from richer backgrounds earned about 20% (14%) more than the 10% highest earners from more modest backgrounds even after taking account of subject and the characteristics of the university attended”.

There was also the release of data concerning the impact of the subject studied on future earnings.  Perhaps no surprises in the gap in earnings of say medicine v the arts but from a careers guidance perspective stark figures on the impact of subject choice.  Further down the road you also wonder how sustainable the current policy on fees and repayment will be.  The governments own figures estimate 60% of students will never repay their loans.  To give this some context  a recent graduate with a healthy starting salary of £40k will not repay their loan after 30 years – and that is assuming 3% inflation & graduate earnings growing at inflation + 2% per year.  I’ve said for a while that student debt is effectively a graduate tax with slim hope of full repayment for most.

Gender gap

Gender pay gap issues are also exposed:

“For graduates with incomes greater than £8,000, the median income for male graduates was £30,000 compared to the female median of £27,000”.


Although government policy over the last 15 years  has done much to widen participation and access to higher education the same cannot be said of its legacy for social mobility.  Your family background, gender, what university you went to and what subject you studied all play major parts in your future career.  Structural issues in our society still persist and given the lack of diversity in both central and local government top jobs you wonder whether the will to challenge the status quo exists in any meaningful way.

Given the nature and power of careers work to impact positively on social mobility you have to question whether policy has again improved or stripped the profession’s ability to make the impact we know it can make (think Connexions and the post code lottery for careers guidance for young people  that we have at the moment).

Finally, for those of you familiar with Bill Law’s community interaction theory I thought it worth highlighting a key point concerning the power of influence has on all of us.

“Career management, then, becomes a matter, not so much of what you know concerning decisions and transitions, but of who you pay attention to among the people you know”.