Published: June 19, 2019


A new Life Course Centre Working Paper examines the role of social origin in the career trajectories of graduates from prestigious and non-prestigious universities.

The paper is authored by Dr Markus Klein, Senior Lecturer in Human Development and Education Policy at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. His paper uses data on people born in the UK in 1970 and follows a subsample from graduation for up to 14 years. This cohort provides a rich set of pre-university characteristics and allows assessment of graduates’ occupational mobility across early and mid-career. The paper addresses two research questions:

  • Are there differences in career progression between graduates from Russell Group universities (representing 24 leading UK universities) and other universities?
  • Is graduating from Russell Group universities more beneficial for first-generation graduates or graduates whose father or mother already gained a degree?

The results show a degree from a prestigious university does not yield advantages in occupational prestige in the first job. However, graduates from Russell Group universities do have a steeper growth in occupational prestige in their early labour market career than graduates from other universities. In later stages of their career, graduates from other universities catch up with their peers from prestigious universities and gain the same level of occupational prestige. The paper finds an early advantage of graduating from prestigious universities for first-generation students – that is, students who are least likely to attend these universities benefit the most through access to resources (such as social networks) that they otherwise wouldn’t have had, and that benefit the early stages of their career.

You can read the full Working Paper here.