Social bias in recruitment to higher education

Daughters of parents with research qualification are most likely to begin higher education while the sons of parents who have only completed lower-secondary education are least likely to.

The social bias in recruitment to higher education concerns the effect of social background on the likelihood of starting higher education. One way to reveal this is to account for the proportion of those who have begun to study in higher education by a certain age among individuals born in the same year but who have different social backgrounds (measured here in terms of their parents’ educational attainment).

The social bias in recruitment is obvious

A total of 44 per cent of those born in 1988 had begun to study in higher education by the age of 25. But for those with at least one parent with a research qualification (licentiate or doctoral degree) the initial participation rate was considerably higher – 84 per cent. In comparison, a mere 22 per cent of those whose parents had only completed lower-secondary education had begun higher education studies.

The figures for students with other backgrounds lie between these two extremes and the social bias in recruitment is obvious: the more highly qualified parents are, the more likely it is for their children to start studying in higher education.

More women than men begin higher education

The same pattern can be seen in the social bias in recruitment for both women and men – in other words the more advanced their parents’ education, the more likely they are to begin higher education themselves.

But as more women begin higher education than men, they form a larger proportion of those from each social category (measured in terms of parents’ educational attainment) beginning higher education. Among those born in 1988 and who had one or two parents with research qualifications 86 per cent of the women and 81 per cent of the men had begun higher education by the age of 25. In the group whose parents had only completed lower-secondary education this applied to 28 per cent of the women and 15 per cent of the men.

Combining gender and social background reveals therefore that the daughters of parents with research qualification are most likely to begin higher education while the sons of parents who have only completed lower-secondary education are least likely to.

Students with different social origins opt for different types of higher education

Not only is it more common for individuals from homes with highly qualified parents to study in higher education, but students with different social origins also opt for different higher education courses and programmes to some extent.

Some of the longer degree programmes that require good grades from upper-secondary education for admission and which at the same time prepare students for professions where career possibilities are good have relatively high proportions of students whose parents have advanced qualifications.