Social inequalities in graduates’ labour market outcomes: the role of spatial mobility and job opportunities

In the UK, research has consistently found that university graduates from more advantaged social classes have a better chance of entering professional or managerial jobs compared to their counterparts from less advantaged social classes. At the same time, another body of research has pointed out that spatial mobility, i.e. moving to a different area, can increase graduates’ chances of attaining a top-level job. In addition, there is evidence that individuals living in more economically developed areas are more likely to advance in their careers. However, so far, little is known about the role that spatial mobility and regional job opportunities play in understanding the existing parental background differences in graduates’ occupational destinations.

Our research addresses this neglected issue by exploring the extent to which the class-of-origin effect varies geographically, and whether spatial mobility narrows or widens the social class gap in graduate destinations. Using data from the HESA Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DHLE) survey, we apply a multilevel framework to analyse the importance of individual-level and regional-level factors in graduates’ chances of obtaining a professional/managerial occupation.

Preliminary results show that regional characteristics, particularly those of the area of employment, matter for graduates’ chances of attaining a top job. More specifically, graduates working in areas with better job opportunities (for instance areas with a higher percentage of professionals or a higher employment rate) are more likely to attain higher managerial and professional occupations. Moreover, the social-class gap in graduates’ chances of attaining a top-level job is not the same across all regions: the gap is larger in regions with fewer job opportunities and narrower in regions with better job opportunities. Therefore, the social class gaps in graduates’ occupational destinations depend on the regional job opportunities. Further research investigates the nature of this pattern in more depth.

Although graduates from more advantaged backgrounds are more likely to move, spatial mobility is beneficial for all graduates irrespective of their social class of origin: on average, spatially mobile graduates are more likely to attain a top-level job, not only compared to their immobile peers from the same social class, but also compared to immobile graduates from higher parental social classes. Nonetheless, spatial mobility does not account for much of the existing inequality by parental background. Instead, this is mostly explained by the quality of higher education and other related characteristics such as the prestige of the university/institution attended, field of study, class of degree and further qualifications achieved.

By combining analysis of regional job opportunities, spatial mobility, and parental background, this study enhances our understanding of how individual and contextual factors shape graduates’ job prospects, and it provides a more comprehensive picture of how inequalities in the graduate labour market unfold.

Photo credit: ©istock phototechno
Date: Friday, October 14, 2016
Authors: Adriana Duta, Cristina Iannelli