UK graduates less likely to go straight into work after degree

Young people experiencing increasingly turbulent starts to their working lives, study finds

April 17, 2024
Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK - May 5th 2014 Woman walks towards door of Job Centre Plus in Shrewsbury town center, Shropshire.
Source: iStock/peplow

The proportion of UK graduates who found work straight out of university is 30 per cent lower among those born in the late 1980s compared with those born a decade earlier, according to a new study.

Researchers from UCL and the University of Liverpool found that graduates are experiencing increasingly turbulent starts to their working lives, characterised by periods of part-time or self-employment, as well as unemployment.

They examined data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study and the British Household Panel Survey on 1,860 people in three birth cohorts – those born in 1974-79, 1980-84 and 1985-90, over the 10 years after they left school.

As well as identifying a general shift towards precarity and “patchwork careers”, the researchers found that women, students from poorer backgrounds, and people living outside London and the south-east England were more likely to experience periods of economic inactivity after leaving education.

This can have a long-term impact, with young people who transitioned directly to full-time employment after completing their studies more likely to occupy professional and managerial jobs by age 26, according to the study, published on 17 April in the journal Population, Space and Place.

Lead author Alina Pelikh, senior research fellow in demography at the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, said that early employment experiences “have become more complex, diverse and precarious with periods of unemployment, part-time employment and inactivity becoming an integral part of the early labour market experience”.

“It is striking that nearly all young people born in the late 1980s have experienced some sort of instability during their school-to-work transition, even those who would ultimately be considered successful in their careers a decade after finishing school,” Dr Pelikh said.

“Our findings fit with wider research that shows millennials are reaching milestones once considered to be the markers of adulthood, such as marriage, home ownership, and stable employment, at a later stage than earlier generations.”

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