Can ‘dreaming big’ help state-educated pupils match private school peers’ wages in early middle age?

12 November 2015

Raising state school children’s aspirations, self-confidence, and improving their access to social networks would do little to counter the huge pay advantages enjoyed by their privately-educated peers, new research shows.

Better education, superior academic performance and entry to higher-ranking universities are the main reasons why private school males go on to earn, at age 42, 34 per cent more than their state school peers. Women who attended fee-paying schools earn 21 per cent more, on average, than their state school counterparts by this age.

These educational advantages account for the entire private school pay premium for women, and around half of that for men, Professor Francis Green of the UCL Institute of Education will reveal at a research seminar in London on November 12.

Professor Green and his colleagues analysed information on almost 11,000 people born across England, Wales and Scotland whose lives are being followed by the 1970 British Cohort Study.

“Compared with state school pupils in Britain, private school pupils are ‘taught to dream big’, according to many education commentators, and seem to do well because of that,” said Professor Green. “Our findings show that certain attributes, for example, self-confidence and aspirations, and advantages, such as access to social networks, are developed in private schools. However, other important traits, such as self-esteem, are already present in privately-educated pupils as they possess the social advantages and prior cognitive skills that are associated with such qualities.”

“We discovered that although self-confidence and aspirations at age 16 have modest effects on pay at age 42, neither self-esteem nor social networks at 16 are linked to better pay in later life.”

Aspirations, self-confidence, self-esteem and social networks were all assessed when the participants were 10 and 16 years old. Income, based on hourly pay, was measured at age 42.

More than two thirds of 16-year-olds from the top fee-paying schools believed they had a family or social connection that could help to get them a job they aspired to in a managerial or professional occupation. This compared to a third for pupils in other private schools, and only 1 in 6 for state school children.

At age 16, pupils were asked about their desires for challenging or interesting roles with promotion prospects and high pay. On a scale of 1 to 100, state school children scored 62, while private school pupils scored 68. Using the same scale, the researchers found that the self-esteem of prep school children at age 10 was 68, whereas that of state school children was 61.

“Strategies to raise self-esteem, self-confidence and aspirations in the state school sector are unlikely to be very effective in narrowing the pay gap between the private and state sectors in later life. Such policies might seem attractive because they do not have to address the large differences in resources between the sectors.

“Our results suggest that social equality strategies should continue to focus on the considerable educational disadvantages of state school pupils relative to their privately-educated peers. The source of private schools’ advantage remains primarily their ability to deliver better academic performance.

“Policies should therefore remain focused on narrowing the gaps in educational achievement between private and state schools,” Professor Green concludes.

Read the full paper

‘Dreaming Big: Self-Evaluations, Aspirations, High-Valued Social Networks, and the Private School Earnings Premium’ by Francis Green, Samantha Parsons, Alice Sullivan and Richard Wiggins is the latest working paper from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) and the latest research paper from the Centre for Research on Learning and Life Chances (LLAKES).

Further information

Ryan Bradshaw
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Meghan Rainsberry
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Notes to editors

  1. Professor Green, who is a specialist in work and education economics, is the Deputy Director of the UCL Institute of Education’s Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES).
  2. The research seminar, ‘The Effects of Private Schools in Britain: A Review of the Evidence and Presentation of New Findings’, is being held at the UCL Institute of Education, London on November 12 from 14.15-15.45.
  3. The researchers analysed information on 10,568 state school pupils and 254 private school children at age 10. At age 16, the study’s authors compared data on 4,179 state school and 276 private school pupils.
  4. Using information from the 1970 British Cohort Study, the income of the study participants was taken at age 42 using a log of hourly pay, but no data was available for self-employed earnings.
  5. The top fee-paying schools included in the study are those reviewed regularly by Tatler, a well-known magazine that serves an especially affluent readership. The Tatler list comprises around 100 schools, mostly with fees in the upper half of the spectrum, including all the most famous schools in England.
  6. The 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) is following the lives of more than 17,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1970. Since the birth survey in 1970, there have been eight further surveys of all cohort members at ages 5, 10, 16, 26, 30, 34, 38 and 42. The age 46 survey is due to take place in 2016. Over the course of cohort members’ lives, BCS70 has collected information on health, physical, educational and social development, and economic circumstances, among other factors. The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and managed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) at the Department of Social Science, UCL Institute of Education.
  7. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
  8. The UCL Institute of Education is a world-leader specialising in education and the social sciences. Founded in 1902, the Institute currently has more than 7,000 students and 800 staff. In the 2014 and 2015 QS World University Rankings, the Institute was ranked number one for education worldwide. It was shortlisted in the ‘University of the Year’ category of the 2014 Times Higher Education (THE) awards. In January 2014, the Institute was recognised by Ofsted for its ‘outstanding’ initial teacher training across primary, secondary and further education. In the most recent Research Excellence Framework, 94 per cent of our research was judged to be world class. On 2 December 2014, the Institute became a single-faculty school of UCL, called the UCL Institute of Education.
  9. University College London (UCL) was founded in 1826. We were the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world’s top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 35,000 students from 150 countries and over 11,000 staff. Our annual income is more than £1 billion. | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel

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