Class and a degree pay

February 28, 2003

Surveys show education is hardening the class divide. Claire Sanders reports

People without qualifications are more excluded from society and live in greater poverty than 50 years ago, despite overall improvements in health, income and housing, according to the latest findings from the British Birth Cohort Studies.

The studies tracked the lives of 40,000 people born in one week in England, Scotland and Wales in 1946, 1955 and 1970. The investigation was carried out in 2000 when the cohort members were 53, 42 and 30 respectively.

"There was a rise in relative poverty from one cohort to the next," says Changing Britain, Changing Lives from the Institute of Education.

The proportion of young people who left school without any qualifications fell from 45 per cent in the 1946 cohort to 10 per cent in the 1970 cohort.

Co-editor John Bynner said: "Life has become harder for those left without qualifications. The old jobs for the unskilled, such as coal-mining, simply no longer exist."

Family income was almost twice as high for those with degrees in the 1970 cohort compared with those with no qualifications. In the 1946 cohort the gap was 30 per cent.

"The social class you are born into exerts as powerful an influence now as it did 50 years ago," the study says. "It is the best predictor of who will gain high qualifications and the most prestigious jobs."

Women have benefited most from participation in further and higher education, overtaking men in the numbers staying on past the school-leaving age and in gaining higher qualifications.

* Continental Europeans have invested in technologies designed to improve the productivity of less-skilled workers and so have avoided the wage inequalities of the UK and US, according to a paper in the Economic Journal .

Daron Acemoglu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says: "While over the 1980s wage inequality and returns to education increased sharply in the US and the UK, there was less of an increase, or even no change, in continental European economies."

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