Children on Free School Meals earn less as adults

New research from the Office for National Statistics suggests more support for the long term impact of material deprivation on the educational outcomes and future earnings potential of poorer students compared to richer students.

Analysis of long term data trends by the ONS shows that students who have been in receipt of free school meals are less likely to go onto university and less likely to go onto higher paid graduate jobs as a result, compared to students who have not been in receipt of free school meals.

The researchers compared the earnings of people who were aged 30 between April 2016 and April 2019 (but not published until August 2022), and found that the median income of independently schooled children was twice that of Free School Meals children in state schools…

  • Free School Meals (FSM) pupils had a median income of £17 000
  • Non FSM (State school) pupils had a median income of around £20 000
  • Independently schooled pupils (where there are no Free School Meals) had a median income of around £35 000.

They also looked at what the top 1% of earners were earning….

  • The top 1% of non FSM pupils earned £63 000
  • The top 1% of non FSM pupils earned £85 000
  • The top 1% of independently schooled children earned £180 000.

So ‘class differences’ in earnings are large in the middle (median) and get larger when you get towards the top of income earners, at least at age 30.

This is a useful update for A-level sociology students studying the education module, typically as part of their first year.

You can find details of the full research, analysis and data sets here: ONS: Why Free School Meal Recipients Earn Less Than Their Peers.

Why do Free School Meal Students earn less than Independently Schooled Students?

This longitudinal analysis was able to look at several factors together to try to explain why FSM students earn less at age 30 that non-FSM and independently school students and concluded that the two main factors were:

  • FSM students were much less likely to go to university than their non FSM and independently schooled peers.
  • FSM students had accrued less labour market experience by age 30 than their peers.
  • 5% of the differences in earnings at age 30 remained unexplained.
  • NB the study also noted that it didn’t have the data to explore the role which social and cultural capital and direct class discrimination may have played in the above.

Selected Data from the Study….

IMO this data belongs firmly in the ‘punishingly depressing’ category. For starters FSM kids are around 3 times less likely to go to university than their independently schooled peers…

Only 16.2% of FSM kids go onto university compared to 57.2% of privately educated kids. The differences get larger when we go up to Masters and PhD level…

Possibly even more depressing is the data below….

Graduates from independent schools at age 30 earn twice as much as graduates who had been in receipt of free school meals.

However the differences are smaller once we get beyond degree level…

Limitations of this research study

The primary limitation is that this study uses historical data from 2016-2019 and thus may not be relevant to our current post-16 educational landscape.

The introduction of tuition fees for University and the rapid increase in Apprenticeships over the last five years could mean this situation is already changing.

And as the researchers say they are limited to a relatively narrow set of quantitative data – there is no ‘rich data’ that enables us to measure factors such as the role of cultural or social capital.

But despite these limitations this is another important, if punishingly depressing reminder that by age 30 average independent school pupils are earning as much as bright FSM pupils, so maybe this is yet more support for the continued relevance of the Marxist perspective on education…?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.