Report Overview

Whilst the issue of access to the professions is relatively well understood, there is limited understanding of the impact of entrants’ backgrounds on success once in graduate employment.

This brief is based on research conducted by Jake Anders from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), exploring graduate pay progression. The research published with upReach looks at the way social background continues to influence graduate pay and career progression once in professional employment.

Key Findings

  • Three and a half years after graduation, private school graduates in top jobs earn £4,500 more than their state school counterparts
  • Their salaries also increase more quickly than for state school graduates – growing by £3,000 more over the same three-year period
  • Half of this pay difference can be explained by the variables such as type of higher education institution attended or prior academic achievement
  • Half cannot be explained by factors accounted for in this research. This implies that non-academic skills such as articulacy or assertiveness could play
    an important role in accessing high-status jobs, and wider societal factors may also play a role
  • Graduates from less privileged backgrounds are marginally more likely to remain in high-status jobs, with 71% still in such employment three and half
    years after graduation (compared to 65% for their more privileged peers)


  1. Our research suggests that the type of school attended, as well as the non-academic skills developed there, may have an impact on graduates’ professional futures. This can be seen both in terms of access to professional employment and subsequent pay progression. It is crucial that employers have the tools and expertise to understand the social makeup of their applicants and recruits so that they can make fair judgements about their potential and provide tailored support to enable those from less privileged backgrounds to thrive once in employment.
  2. This study builds on research suggesting that unobserved factors such as non-academic skills play a crucial role in access to, and progression within, professional employment. Graduates from less privileged backgrounds have the same academic potential, yet their talent may not be fully expressed in graduate application processes or in career progression once in a professional job. Employers should be encouraged to support less privileged undergraduates to develop these skills. This could deliver real benefits to employers through facilitating greater access to a wider pool of diverse talent. Graduates from less privileged backgrounds applying for high status jobs should be identified early on in the application process and during employment to allow graduate employers to support the best talent to progress regardless of social background. This support might include mentoring opportunities, career coaching and application guidance to help improve key non-academic skills.
  3. Previous studies have shown that people from particular backgrounds are disproportionately represented in certain professions. Further research should be undertaken to understand the distribution of less privileged graduates in the labour market and the impact of non-academic skills on graduate career progression. Additionally, more research is needed to fully understand the challenges less privileged graduates face within specific professions and identify the areas where interventions can have the greatest impact.