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Employability and social class in the graduate labour market

Gordon, Daniel Andrew 2013. Employability and social class in the graduate labour market. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis examined the early labour market experiences of graduates from different class backgrounds at three differentially ranked universities. It finds that outcomes are more than the sum of credentials and hard work. Access to social, economic and non-academic forms of cultural capital is found to be important and graduates from middle class backgrounds are more likely than graduates from working class backgrounds to access the forms of capital recognised by the graduate labour market. This leads to observable differences in graduate labour market outcomes. However, the complex relationship between higher education and the graduate labour market means that class differences are not simply reproduced. In the first instance, patterns in graduate labour market outcomes are a product of the academic requirements demanded by certain occupations. These academic barriers are tangible and affect all graduates regardless of background. Graduates with more prestigious credentials are more likely to access professional or managerial occupations and are more likely to find traditional graduate employment: the proportion of middle class graduates employed in professional or managerial occupations was 100% at the Elite University, 79% at the Russell Group University and 69% at the Post-1992 University. This compares with figures of 100%, 56% and 31%, respectively, for working class graduates. However, labour market success is also predicated upon exhibiting the ‘right’ combination of competencies and experiences, privileging middle class graduates. Middle class graduates have greater access to economic capital, are able to leverage their social networks to augment their employability, and are more likely to exhibit ways of being and doing associated with professional and managerial competence. As such, intra-university comparisons find that middle class graduates are more likely to access graduate employment (79% of Russell Group University middle class graduates were in graduate employment compared to 22% of working class graduates) and work in professional or managerial occupations (see figures above). These observations can be attributed to significant differences in economic, social and cultural capital. However, such comparisons conceal subtle in-group differences. This thesis identified distinct class fractions within both the middle and working class groups. An interesting distinction within the middle classes was that between middle class graduates with parents employed in the public/third sectors and those with parents employed in the private sector. For instance, 80% of graduates in the public sector had one or more parents employed by the public sector and almost 60% had both parents employed by the public sector, which constituted all of those with both parents employed by the public sector. All of the graduates in the private sector had at least one parent employed by the sector and 74% had both parents employed by the sector, constituting 85% of graduates with both parents employed in the private sector. The same pattern did not emerge for working class graduates. The sector of parental employment is significant because it reflects systematic differences in social and political orientation, which for graduates give rise to discernible differences in their inherited labour market orientation, social networks and cultural capital. The graduate labour market outcomes of working class graduates are acutely tied to the institutions they attend and their experiences therein. Unlike many middle class graduates, working class graduates do not inherit forms of social and cultural capital that can be easily realised in the graduate labour market. As such, differences between working class fractions can be traced to differences in educational achievement and trajectory. Through the acculturation of middle class behaviours and alignment of practices, working class graduates benefit from the institutional proximity to middle class peers and become caught in their ‘slip stream’. The benefits are clear to see: 65% of elite trajectory graduates were in traditional graduate employment and 94% were in professional or managerial occupations. For modal trajectory graduates mediocre credentials and low levels of inherited social and cultural capital are compounded by socially segregated institutional experiences. Consequently, they were found in the least competitive regions of the graduate labour market, typically in non-graduate employment and in occupations that did not require a degree-level education. These findings add to our understanding of how class background, higher education and the graduate labour market interact. They raise some important questions for the academic field but also for public policy, particularly around the role of higher education in promoting social mobility and its relationship with the (graduate) labour market.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2016 23:18

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