Social class returns to higher education: chances of access to the professional and managerial salariat for men in three British birth cohorts
Keywords:social class, higher education, birth cohort studies
In economics there is a well-established tradition of research into the earnings returns to education. We aim to make a sociological contribution by focusing on the social class returns: specifically, by examining the returns to higher education as indicated by chances of access to the professional and managerial salariat, while also taking into account the effects of cognitive ability and class origins and differences in access to professional and managerial positions. We draw on data for men from three British birth cohort studies covering children born in 1946, 1958 and 1970. We find that while over the period covered the growth of the salariat ensured that absolute returns to both higher and lower tertiary qualifications were largely maintained, despite the growing numbers with such qualifications, returns relative to those to higher secondary qualifications diminished. Also, the advantages offered by lower tertiary qualifications as compared with higher secondary qualifications differ according to men’s class origins. Overall, there is no evidence of any increase in education-based, meritocratic selection to the salariat. Rather, the growth of the salariat appears to be associated with some decline in its selectivity in terms of both qualifications and cognitive ability, with this decline being more marked in its managerial than in its professional components.
Authors who published with Longitudinal and Life Course Studies Volumes 1–9 agreed to the following terms:
1. Authors retain copyright and grant the Journal right of first publication with the work, simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
2. Following first publication in this Journal, Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal, provided always that no charge is made for its use.
3. Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g. in institutional repositories or on their own website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work.