Socio-economic status, subject choice at 14, and university access

There is a large socio-economic status gap in higher education (HE) participation in England. However, most evidence suggests that this is driven by inequality that emerges before the point of application. It has been suggested that one such source of inequality is the subjects and qualifications studied by young people while still at school. The importance of this factor for young people's chances of progressing to HE in general, and to highly selective HE institutions in particular, has increasingly attracted the attention of policy-makers. This has been most notable in the UK Government's introduction of the English Baccalaureate performance measure for schools at age 16, and the introduction of performance in Russell Group “facilitating subjects” at A-Level for schools at age 18. However, this area is under-studied in the academic literature.


This project aims to address this gap using a combination of survey and administrative data on a recent cohort of English students. It will analyse the subject choices taken by young people at age 14 (affecting subjects and qualifications studied for examinations predominantly at age 16). It will use statistical analysis to estimate the subsequent importance of subject choice in the probability of attending university or a highly competitive university. It will also consider the association between socio-economic status and young people's subject choices, and the extent to which this acts as a transmission mechanism between socio-economic status and inequality in attendance at university.