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Most research on social inequalities in higher education (HE) graduates’ labour market outcomes has analysed outcomes at one or two points in time, thus providing only snapshots of graduates’ occupational destinations. This study contributes to the existing literature by examining the education and labour market trajectories of degree holders across their life course and how these trajectories vary by social class of origin. We analyse data from the 1970 British Cohort Study and employ sequence analysis, followed by cluster analysis, to identify HE graduates’ typical trajectories. We assess the degree of social inequalities in the chance of following more or less advantaged pathways from age 16 up to the age of 42 and the extent to which these inequalities are explained by differences in higher education experiences. The results show that graduates from lower social classes of origin have more diverse and less stable trajectories, are less likely to enter top-level jobs in their 20s and more likely to enter and remain in lower social classes than their more socially advantaged counterparts. The age at which people graduate from HE emerges to be a key factor in explaining some of these patterns. Interestingly, HE factors - such as class of degree, fields of study and type of university attended - only partially explain social class differences. Our research provides new insights into the dynamic nature of inequalities among graduates showing that not only does the final destination matter but also the timing and sequencing of trajectories are important.
- social inequalities
- graduates’ education and labour market trajectories
- life course
- sequence analysis