Children whose parents are unemployed are far less likely to aspire to university than those from homes where at least one parent works, a conference will hear next week.
Tessa Stone, director of the Sutton Trust, will present the results of a MORI survey of 2,700 young people aged between 11 and 16. It examined children's aspirations to go to university and attitudes to debt, based on family background.
Links between parents being employed and the chances of offspring going to university have long been established, but the study provides a more detailed insight into the influence of family background on participation.
The survey found that children from homes where both parents were unemployed were much more likely to think that higher education was not for them. Children from similar homes in which at least one parent was employed were far more likely to aspire to university.
Dr Stone said that the main difference between two-parent households and single-parent households was in children's attitudes to debt. She said:
"Kids from single-parent families are considerably more worried about debt than those from two-parent counterparts, and they are considerably more likely to want to start earning money as soon as possible."
The findings show that universities and colleges seeking to widen participation need to intervene early, to raise aspirations among the young.
Dr Stone, a former admissions tutor at Newnham College, Cambridge, said:
"The answer is to start young, although it is not easy to argue for a direct link between working with primary-school kids and admissions."
The conference on Aspiration and Achievement: Widening Participation in Higher Education is organised by Universities UK.