Campus life reinforced class divides

June 21, 2002

Higher education may have reinforced socioeconomic class divides for most of the 1970s and 1980s, writes Alan Thomson.

A study by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics showed that higher education acted to restrict social mobility, despite an expansion in university places in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The study looked at people aged 33 born in 1958 and people aged 30 born in 1970. It found that a son born in 1958 to a family with income of £20,000 would be earning 12 per cent more than a son born the same year to a family earning £10,000.

A son born in 1970 could expect a 22 per cent wage premium if he was born to a family earning £20,000. Daughters' premiums were similar.

Thirty-four per cent of those born in 1958 to parents in the top earnings quartile ended up there themselves in 1991. Thirty per cent of those born to parents in the bottom quartile stayed there into their 30s.

Nineteen per cent of those born to parents in the bottom quartile ended up in the top quarter of earners.

Forty-three per cent of those born in 1970 to the wealthiest parents were in that same quartile in 2000, while 38 per cent born to parents in the bottom quartile remained low earners. Only 15 per cent of those born into the lowest earning families managed to make it to the top quartile.

The study found that by factoring out the effect of higher education on subsequent earnings, the rise in immobility between the 1958 and 1970 cohorts is reduced by 16 percentage points for sons and percentage points for daughters.

CEP researcher Jo Blanden said these were signs the rapid expansion in the 1990s could be breaking down class barriers.

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