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Post-16 pathways: the role of peers, family background and expectations

Researchers: Dr Nicola Pensiero | Dr Jan Germen Janmaat

Project overview

This project investigates the extent to which expected economic and social returns account for the effects of socio-economic background on post-16 education pathways.

Parental socio-economic status has a substantial impact on educational transitions in the UK, even when taking prior educational achievement into account. Previous research shows substantial socio-economic differences in GCSE subject choice and the decision to continue to A-Level. These decisions have significant implications for future social mobility and labour market prospects.

The researchers hypothesise that disadvantaged children often face a conflict between economic goals and social goals (e.g. conformity with peers), while better-off children can pursue both goals simultaneously. As well as providing an account of the decision-making process, the project will analyse the expected returns to university participation and decisions about whether to attend university.

The project will analyse educational records from the National Pupil Database with data from Next Steps (the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England), a survey that followed a cohort of around 16,000 children born in 1989/1990 up to age 25.

This research will improve our understanding of how young people make decisions, particularly the role of peers and socio-economic inequalities. It will be relevant to groups interested in the ways policy might intervene to equalise educational opportunities, schools and others responsible for providing careers advice, information and guidance to young people. The results will be presented to social scientists, policymakers and educational practitioners.


  • Dr Nicola Pensiero
    University College London
  • Dr Jan Germen Janmaat
    University College London

  • Cheryl Lloyd
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.