Is it worth doing a degree?

Is it worth spending £30, 000 or more and three years of your life doing a degree?

If we limit our analysis to purely financial considerations and if we focus on ‘median earnings’ – then yes, on average, it is definitely still worth doing a degree: graduates currently earn about £8K a year more on average than non graduates (graduate labour market statistics 2015)

graduate-earnings

However, the gap between the earnings of graduates and non-gradates is closing – in 2005 graduates earned about 55% more than non graduates, while in 2015 they only earned 45% more.

graduate-earnings-2015

If this trend continues, then a degree will be worthless by 2045, at least if we measure the value of a degree purely in economic terms.

A recent YouGov survey (May 2017) found that only 61% of students felt that their degree was worth the money, so possible this is evidence that what students feel is coming into line with the more objective financial trends above…

Of course there’s a whole load of other factors you need to consider to answer the above question fully! But I wanted to keep this post focused on just one dimension.

Further reading

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Wealth and Income inequality in the U.K.

Official statistics suggest that the richest 20% of the U.K. are 100 times wealthier than the poorest 20%; the richest fifth’s annual household income is 5 times greater than the poorest 20% of the U.K. Population, after benefit and taxes are taken into account.

This post provides two accessible ‘headline’ statistics on wealth and income inequality, courtesy of some excellent animated infographics, and then goes on to look at the original data sources and organisations who produce the data in more depth. The point of this post is to both provide and overview of wealth and income inequality in the United Kingdom and to provide some useful links to allow students to explore statistics on wealth and income inequalities in more depth.

Wealth and income inequalities are closely correlated with social class, although economic measurements are just one indicator of social class, which is a broader concept, also encompassing social and cultural capital (if we are going to use the latest social class survey – see here for an introduction to the concept of social class.

Wealth Inequality in the United Kingdom

  • The richest 20% are about 100 times richer than the poorest 20% –
  • If we represent the wealth of nation as £100 pounds, then the richest 20% have £60 out of every hundred, while the bottom 20% have only 60 pence.

The inequality briefing below provides an overview of how wealth is distributed in the UK. It compares how people think wealth should be distributed, what they think the actual wealth distribution is in the UK, and finally what the actual wealth distribution is.

What people think wealth distribution in the UK should be

Wealth Inequality UK 2015.png

How people think wealth is actually distributed in the UK

Wealth inequality UK.png

How wealth is actually distributed in the UK

wealth-inequality-uk-3

Income Inequality in the U.K.

  • The bosses of Britain’s biggest companies earn 100 times more than the average wage.
  • It takes them just three days to earn what a Nurse earns in an entire year.

This video by the High Pay Centre summarises the situation in 2014

  • Brenda, nurse,  earns £12 an hour, the average wage in the U.K.
  • Brian, a chief executive of one of Britain’s biggest companies, earns £1200 an hour, 100 times what Brenda earns.
  • It takes Brian just three months to earn what Brenda will earn in her entire working life.
  • Brenda’s annual salary of £27 000 has hardly changed at all over the last decade, while the cost of living has increased.
  • Brian’s annual salary on the other hand has increased from 2.6 million to 4.3 million over the last decade.
  • If we redistributed the income of the U.K. on the same basis of the Netherlands, which would effectively involve reducing the income of the top 1% by a mere 25%, then 99% of us would be an average of £3000/ year better off.

Income inequality in the UK 2014

Income inequality U.K. 2014

A fairer income distribution, based on the Netherlands

A fairer income distribution, based on the Netherlands

Further Sources on Wealth and Income Inequalities

The sources below provide a more in-depth focus on the nature and extent of wealth and income inequalities in the United Kingdom today. Click on the links to explore them further!

Source 1 – The Office for National Statistics bi-annual ‘Wealth in Great Britain’ Survey

This link will take you to the latest 2014 report

  • The wealthiest 10% of households owned 45% of aggregate total wealth in July 2012 to June 2014.
  • The bottom 50% of households owned 9% of aggregate total wealth.
  • In 2012-14 the wealthiest 20% of households had 117 times more aggregate total wealth than the least wealthy 20% of households.
  • In comparison, the wealthiest 20% of households had 97 times more aggregate total wealth than the least wealthy 20% of households in July 2010 to June 2012.

  • The total net wealth of the lowest three decile households (30% of the U.K. population) is approximately £200 million.
  • The lowest decile have zero wealth, many such households will have net debt rather than assets.

Source 2 – The Office for National Statistics produces an annual report on ‘Household disposable income and inequality in the UK’

This is the report financial year ending 2016 with some of the main data summarised below…

  • Original household income (before cash benefits and direct taxes) for the richest fifth of households was around 12 times higher than the poorest fifth (£85,000 and £7,000 per year respectively)
  • Disposable household income (after cash benefits and direct taxes) for the richest fifth was 5 times higher than the poorest fifth (£62,400 and £12,500 per year respectively).
  • This shows us that, overall, cash benefits and direct taxes led to income being shared more equally between households

  • Over the past year, median disposable income for the poorest fifth of households rose by £700 (5.1%). In contrast the income of the richest fifth of households fell by £1,000 (1.9%) over the same period.
  • Looked at over the past decade, the incomes of the poorest fifth of households have increased by approximately 13%, while the incomes of richest fifth of households have fallen by approximately 3%.
Growth in median household disposable income, financial years 2008 – 2016

 Related Posts

Even more resources to explore wealth and poverty in more depth… 

 

Families and Households in the UK – Social Trends

This post summaries some of the changing trends (and continuities) in family and household structure in the UK, using data from the Office for National Statistics which collects a range of data annually on families and households in the UK

The Office for National Statistics Families and Households Hub Page is an obviou starting point for exploring this issue . Some of the headline stats include the following:

  • In 2015 there were 18.7 million families in the UK
  • The most common family type in 2015 was the married or civil partner couple family with or without dependent children at 12.5 million
  • The cohabiting couple family continues to be the fastest growing family type in the UK in 2015, reaching 3.2 million cohabiting couple families
  • In 2015 around 40% of young adults aged 15 to 34 in the UK were living with their parents
  • There were 27.0 million households in the UK in 2015, 35% of all households were two person households
  • In 2015 there were 7.7 million people in UK households who were living alone

Changes to families and households 2005 – 2015

  1. Changes to Family Households

There has been a significant increase in the number of cohabiting couples, both with and without children, and a slight increase in lone parent households. The number of married couple households both with and without children has remained stable, which means that the overall picture is one of a slight trend towards increasing family diversity and away from marriage.

changes to household structure UK 2005 to 2015

2. Marriage and Cohabitation Trends 

The chart below clearly shows the slight decline in married households compared to cohabiting and single parent households, but there are still almost three times as many married households compared to cohabiting households!

marriage and cohabitation trends UK

3. Family Size 

Family size appears to have remained pretty stable over the past 15 years

family size UK

4. Households Size in the UK

We have quite a small average households size in the UK – with two and one person households making up around two thirds of all households.

household size UK

5.Multi Family Households 

Given that they’re starting from a small base, there has been a significant ten year increase in multi family households – households with two or more families in, an increase of one third in twenty years.

 

Multi family households UK

6. The increase in People Living Alone

There has been a slow and steady increase in the overall numbers of people living alone, but this varies a lot by age – generally the number of older people living alone has increased, the number of younger people living alone has decreased.

People LIving Alone UK

Income Inequality in the UK – Some Infographics

Stratification is one of the core themes within A level Sociology and Sociology more generally. One of the major sources of stratification is found in differences between wealth and income within the UK. According to various sources of statistics (of course you should always question where these come from!) the UK is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world, and this is something I like to bang on about a lot. Below are a few handy infographics which illustrate the extent of wealth and income inequality in the UK.

  1. This first infographic from the excellent Equality Trust (authors of The Spirit Level) provides a nice general overview. The headline figure is quite easy to remember – the top o.1% earn about 100 times more than the bottom 90%, and the ratio is roughly the same for the earnings of a CEO of a FTSE 100 company compared to the average UK income.

income inequality UK

2. This infographic from Income Inequality Briefing reminds us that the wages of the richest have increased, while the relative wages of the poorest have decreased in real terms.

 

inequality UK

3. This third infographic, again from the Inequality Briefing, looks at things regionally – Basically I think it tells us that the wealthiest region (London) is twice as wealthy in terms of wages as the poorest (up north somewhere or Welsh valleys). It also reminds us that the UK is one of the most unequal countries in Europe. Basically the average income in London is double the average income in the West Midlands.

regional inequality UK

4. This final infographic from the Office for National Statistics at least reminds us that taxation and benefits do help to reduce income inequality to an extent. Before tax and benefits the richest 20% of households are 14 times richer than the poorest, but after tax and benefits, the ratio reduces 4. NB1 – If you were comparing the richest 10% with the poorest 10% the difference would be larger. NB2 remember that most people who receive benefit are actually in work, and benefits (e.g. housing benefit) tops up their low wages.

tax benefits income inequality

 

Official Statistics on Educational Achievement in the U.K. – Strengths and Limitations

How useful are official statistics for understanding differences in educational achievement by social class, gender and ethnicity?

How do GCSE results vary by social class, gender and ethnicity?

The data below is taken from the Department for Education’s document – GCSE and Equivalent Attainment by Pupil Characteristics 2014

Firstly – GENDER –  Girls outperform boys by about 10 percentage points. 61.7% of girls achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics compared to 51.6% of boys; this is a gap of 10.1 percentage points.

Girls Outperform Boys in Education
Girls Outperform Boys in Education

Secondly – ETHNICITY – Chinese pupils are the highest achieving group. 74.4% of Chinese pupils achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics. This is 17.9 percentage points above the national average (56.6%). Almost half of Chinese Pupils are achieving the English Baccalaureate (49.5%); 25.4 percentage points above the national average (24.2%).

Children from a black background are the lowest achieving group. 53.1% of pupils from a black background achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics; this is 3.4 percentage points below the national average (56.6%). However, things are also improving: 75.5% of black pupils are making the expected progress in English and 68.4% in mathematics; both above the national average of 71.6% for English and 65.5% for mathematics.

educational attainment by ethnicity 2014
educational attainment by ethnicity 2014

 

Thirdly – SOCIAL CLASS – Here, instead of social class we need to use Pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) (meaning they come from a household with an income of less than £16000) – FSM pupils are nearly 30% points behind non FSM pupils. 33.5% of pupils eligible for FSM achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics compared to 60.5% of all other pupils. This is a gap of 27.0 percentage points. 36.5% of disadvantaged pupils achieved at least 5 A*- C GCSEs (or equivalent) grades including English and mathematics compared to 64.0% of all other pupils, a gap of 27.4 percentage points.

Educational attainment by social class
Educational attainment by social class

 

The government stats also include achievement data by ‘disadvantage’:

Disadvantaged pupils are defined as pupils known to be eligible for free school meals in the previous six years as indicated in any termly or annual school census, pupil referral unit (PRU) or alternative provision (AP) census or are children looked after by the local authority for more than 6 months.

Educational achievement by disadvantage
Educational achievement by disadvantage

 

Other statistical data included in the pupil characteristics report

The Department for Education also collects data and reports on educational achievement by English as a second language, and special educational needs. Look it up if you’re interested, I’m limiting myself here to educational attainment by ‘social class’, gender and ethnicity.

Some Strengths of Official Statistics on Educational Achievement by Pupil Characteristic 

ONE – Good Validity (as far as it goes) – These data aren’t collected by the schools themselves – so they’re not a complete work of fiction, they are based on external examinations or coursework which is independently verified, so we should be getting a reasonably true representation of actual achievement levels. HOWEVER, we need to be cautious about this.

TWO – Excellent representativeness – We are getting information on practically every pupil in the country, even the ones who fail!

THREE – They allow for easy comparisons by social class, gender and ethnicity. These data allow us to see some pretty interesting trends – As in the table below – the difference between poor Chinese girls and poor white boys stands out a mile… (so you learn straight away that it’s not just poverty that’s responsible for educational underachievement)

Educational achievement varies hugely by class, gender and ethnicity
Educational achievement varies hugely by class, gender and ethnicity

FOUR – These are freely available to anyone with an internet connection

FIVE – They allow the government to track educational achievement and develop social policies to target the groups who are the most likely to underachieve – These data show us (once you look at it all together) for example, that the biggest problem of underachievement is with white, FSM boys.

Some Disadvantages of the Department for Education’s Stats on Educational Achievement

ONE – We need to be a little cautious about the validity of some of these results, especially when making comparisons over time. This is because until last year schools could count any one of 3000 ‘soft’ subjects as equivalent to a GCSE, which could make the results look better than they actually are. Also, with coursework subjects there is a potential problem with ‘grade inflation’ within schools, and not to mention the fact that with coursework we are least partially measuring the degree to which parents have helped their children, rather than their children’s actual personal achievement.

TWO – comparisons over time might be difficult because of recent changes to the qualifications that are allowed to be counted towards attainment measurements. In 2014 the following changes were made:

1. The number of qualifications which counted towards ‘GCSE or equivalent’ results were drastically reduced – around 3,000 unique qualifications from the performance measures between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

2. The associated point scores for non-GCSEs was adjusted so that no qualification will count as larger than one GCSE in size. For example, where a BTEC may have previously counted as four GCSEs it will now be reduced to the equivalence of a single GCSE in its contribution to performance measures.

3. The number of non-GCSE qualifications that count in performance measures was restricted to two per pupil.

All of this has had the effect of making the results look worse than they actually are:

Effects of Wolfes review on GCSE results

THREE – These stats don’t actually tell us about the relationship between social class background and educational attainment. Rather than recording data using a sociological conception of social class, the government uses the limited definition of Free School Meal eligibility – which is just an indicator of material deprivation rather than social class in its fuller sense. Marxist sociologists would argue that this is ideological – the government simply isn’t interested in measuring the effects of social class on achievement – and if you don’t measure it the problem kind of disappears.

FOUR – and this is almost certainly the biggest limitation – these stats don’t actually tell us anything about ‘WHY THESE VARIATIONS EXIST’ – Of course they allow us to formulate hypotheses – but (at least if we’re being objective’) we don’t get to see why FSM children are twice as likely to do badly in school… we need to do further research to figure this out.

No doubt there are further strengths and limitations, but this is something for you to be going on with at least…

Related Posts 

Official Statistics in Sociology

Assessing the Usefulness of Using Secondary Qualitative Data to Research Education

Trends in Family and Household Diversity

Trends in Reconstituted Families

  • In 2011 there were 544,000 step families with dependent children in England and Wales.
  • This means that 11% of couple families with dependent children were step families.
  • The Number of step families has increased since the 1950s.
  • However, the number of step families has declined recently dropping from 631,000 in 2001 to just 544,000 in 2011.
  • If there is only one biological parent in the step-family, that parent is the mother rather than the father in 90% of cases.

Trends in Lone Parent Households

  • There were nearly 2.0 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK in 2012, a figure which has grown significantly from 1.6 million in 1996.
  • In 2012, women accounted for 91 per cent of lone parents with dependent children and men the remaining 9 per cent. These percentages have changed little since 1996.

Trends in Single Person Households

  • In the UK, 34% of households have one person living in them.
  • According to Euromonitor International, the number of people living alone globally is skyrocketing, rising from about 153 million in 1996 to 277 million in 2011 – an increase of around 80% in 15 years.

Trends in ‘Kidult’ Households

  • According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2011, nearly 3.0 million adults aged between 20 and 34 were living with a parent or parents, an increase of almost half a million, or 20 per cent, since 1997.
  • This means that nearly 1/3 men and 1/7 women in the UK now live with their parents.

Trends in Multigenerational Households

  • The ONS doesn’t collect data on ‘multigenerational households’, but it does collect data on ‘concealed families’, a closely related concept.
  • The latest census analysis reveals there were 289,000 concealed families in 2011, making up 1.8% of all families (15.8 million) in England and Wales. A concealed family is a family living in a multi-family household, in addition to the primary family.

Related Post

Explaining the increase in family diversity – part 1 of 3