Study reveals first-class female graduates are less likely to see grades reflected in wages
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Men in their twenties who gained top degrees are likely to be earning 7% more than if they had achieved an upper second, whereas the average premium for women of the same age group is 4%, according to a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).
The research, which was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), also showed the gender difference in the payoff to achieving a first-class degree was most stark at the top universities.
It found that male graduates with a first-class degree from Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London and the London School of Economics earned 14% more than those who got an upper second – but for women there was almost no change in their potential salary.
Further demonstrating the imbalance, the study also showed that the penalty for achieving a lower second as opposed to an upper second is 7% lower earnings for women and 11% lower earnings for men.
Meanwhile, obtaining a degree below a lower second is associated with 15% lower earnings for women and 18% lower earnings for men compared with an upper second.
It is feared that the revelation could disincentivize some female students whose aspirations for a high level of salary will not be met simply because they are women and with no regard to the quality of their degrees.
Jack Britton, associate director at IFS, and a co-author of the report, said that attaining a first-class degree in some subjects matters much more to earnings than in others.
Mr Britton said: “This report provides useful information to students about the likely financial rewards to performing well in their degrees.
“Across all degrees, the gap in earnings between getting a 2.1 and getting a 2.2 is much more important than the gap between getting a first and getting a 2.1.
“In fact, for many subjects, the difference between a first and a 2.1 is inconsequential for earnings.
“However, for others, such as economics, law, business, computing and pharmacology, it is substantial.”
Ben Waltmann, a senior research economist at IFS who co-wrote the report, said the research also highlights the financial benefits of going to a more selective university.
He said: “The findings imply that degree classification may matter as much as university attended for later life earnings.
“Other things being equal, going to a more selective university is good for future earnings, and the fact that few students from disadvantaged backgrounds attend the most selective universities is a barrier to social mobility.
“But that being said, many graduates who get a 2.2 from a highly selective university might have got a higher-paying job had they attended a slightly less selective university and got a 2.1.
“Prospective students, parents and policymakers should take note.”
The research is based on the Education’s Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset, which links school records, university records and tax records for everyone who took GCSEs in England since 2002.
Using these data, the IFS has estimated degree class earnings premiums for graduates in the UK up to age 30.