The effect of graduate earnings on 16-year-olds’ subject choices

This project looked at the effects of giving information to 15-16-year-old students about the earnings of university graduates from different subjects. Over 5,000 students from across England took part in the study.

The researchers conducted a randomised control trial of an intervention in which Year 11 students were given a one-hour information session about the relationship between university subject and labour market outcomes. Students were also given access to websites to allow them to explore this evidence further. During the intervention, the intervention group received information on graduate earnings, but the control group did not.

The study found that take-up of mathematics would be significantly increased with this intervention. Pupils who received the information on graduate earnings were 39% more likely to study maths than students in the control schools. Pupils who received the information were 27% less likely to study biology and 39% less likely to study computing.

These findings were presented in the paper Labour market knowledge and choice of subject to study: a pragmatic cluster randomized controlled trial at the annual research conference of the Society for Research into Higher Education in December 2014.

The findings could have implications for government policy amid efforts to increase interest in STEM subjects.