Can education can act as an equaliser of life chances and a vehicle for social mobility? A growing body of research shows that a university degree is not the great leveller and that, even among graduates, there are great social inequalities in their labour market outcomes.
This study contributes to the existing literature by examining the education and labour market trajectories of degree holders across their life course and how these trajectories vary by social class of origin. We used data from the 1970 British Cohort Study, the most recent birth cohort with detailed employment and education histories up to the age of 42.
The results show that graduates from lower social classes of origin have more diverse and less stable trajectories, are less likely to enter top-level jobs in their 20s and more likely to enter and remain in lower social classes than their more socially advantaged counterparts. The age at which people graduate from HE emerges to be a key factor in explaining some of these patterns. Interestingly, HE factors - such as class of degree, fields of study and type of university attended - only partially explain social class differences.
Our research provides new insights into the dynamic nature of inequalities among graduates showing that not only does the final destination matter but also the timing and sequencing of spells within the trajectories are important.
This paper was published in the Advances of Life Course Research on 19 September 2020 and can be read in full online: