Social inequalities in graduates’ labour market outcomes

There are a number of areas of focus within this project:

1. Social inequalities in graduates’ occupational destinations

This project aimed to assess whether and to what extent social inequalities in early occupational destinations among graduates exist. In a comparative framework, we asked whether the effect of social origin on graduates’ occupational attainment differs between Germany and the UK, two distinct institutional settings in terms of education system and labour market structure. We asked further whether social inequalities in occupational careers can be explained by differences in the chosen field of study or HE institution, and whether this is the case more in one country than in the other.

A second goal was to assess changes in the association between graduates’ social origin and occupational attainment across different periods. More specifically, we evaluated whether the Great Recession in 2008/09 strengthened social inequalities in occupational outcomes. Various European and UK datasets on graduates were used.

For our analyses we use the REFLEX data and the HESA DHLE longitudinal data on graduates’ destinations.

Papers associated with this research:

Marita Jacob, Markus Klein, Cristina Iannelli – The Impact of Social Origin on Graduates’ Early Occupational Destinations—An Anglo-German Comparison – European Sociological Review, Oxford Journals, DOI: 10.1093/esr/jcv006

Klein, M. and Iannelli, C. (work in progress) Trends in social inequalities in the graduate labour market: Does family of origin matter more under economic downturns?

Policy relevance:
This comparative research is highly relevant for policy because it assesses the relevance of institutional conditions and macro-economic conditions for the graduate job markets to operate on a more or less meritocratic basis.

2. Examining inequalities in graduates’ labour market outcomes across the life-course

Most of the research examining social inequalities in graduates’ labour market returns have analysed outcomes at one or two points in time, thus providing only snapshots of graduates’ occupational outcomes. This study improves upon the existing research by examining graduates’ labour market trajectories across their life-course (including movements in and out of employment and between occupational classes) and how these trajectories vary by social class of origin. We asked two main research questions: (1) What are the typical labour market pathways followed by graduates?; (2) How do these pathways vary by parental social class? We use data from the British Cohort Study (1970) and sequence analysis followed by cluster analysis to identify the typical trajectories followed by tertiary education graduates. Multinomial logistic regression is then employed to examine whether and to what extent people from different social origins differ in the chance of following more or less advantaged pathways and whether these differences can be explained by variation in their HE experiences.

Paper associated with this research:

• Wielgoszewska, B., Iannelli, C. and Duta, A. (work in progress) Social origin and graduates’ labour market trajectories up to the age of 42.

3. The role of regional job opportunities and spatial mobility

We explore the spatial dimension of social inequalities in graduates’ opportunities of gaining a top-level job by examining whether and the extent to which class-of-origin effect on entering top level occupations varies geographically. Using the HESA Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DHLE) and a multilevel framework we analyse the importance of individual-level and regional-level factors in graduates’ chances of obtaining a professional/managerial occupation. The research questions asked in this study are: To what extent the characteristics of the origin and destination areas affect the chances of gaining a top-level job after graduation? Does the social-class gap in graduates’ occupational destinations vary depending on these area characteristics? Preliminary results suggest that the availability of professional and managerial jobs and employment rates in the destination areas are significantly associated with social class differences in graduates’ opportunities of gaining a top-level and that social inequalities are smaller in areas with more job opportunities.

Paper associated with this research:
• Duta A. and Iannelli C. (work in progress) Social inequalities in graduates’ labour market outcomes: the role of regional job opportunities.

A related study investigates whether mobility to and from higher education enhances graduates’ occupational and earnings prospects and whether geographical mobility explains social inequalities by parental background in graduates’ labour market. Using the HESA Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DHLE) and logit estimations, we address the following research questions: Does the propensity to be more or less spatially mobile when choosing a tertiary institution have consequences for individuals’ labour market returns? Does the propensity to be more or less mobile when entering employment explain different occupational outcomes of graduates from different social origin?
Paper associated with this research:
• Ernsten A. and Iannelli C. (work in progress) Graduates’ social origin, geographical mobility and labour market outcomes

Policy relevance:
The research we have conducted in this area of work is relevant to policy-makers and practitioners seeking to understand the determinant of social inequalities in graduates’ labour market outcomes. To address these inequalities a better understanding of the interplay between micro- and macro-level factors, as well as a life-course perspective, are necessary.


Cristina Iannelli

Marita Jacob
Adriana Duta
Markus Klein
Annemarie Ernsten
Bozena Wielgoszewska