Some graduates earn less than average

In October to December 2010, the bottom 20 per cent of employees with a minimum of a degree earned less than the average pay for those educated to  A-level, according to new analysis of Labour Force Survey data released today by Office for National Statistics.

The bottom 15 per cent of employees with a degree also earned less than the average for those educated to around the GCSE or equivalent level.

The data shows, on average, employees with a minimum of a degree earned 85 per cent more than those educated to around the GCSE level, down from 95 per cent in 1993. Employees with a higher education (but not degree) qualification earned around 45 per cent more, down from 54 per cent in 1993, and those educated to around the A-level or equivalent qualification earned around 15 per cent more, down from 18 per cent in 1993.

Over the same period, the percentage of people in the UK with a degree has more than doubled from 12 per cent in 1993 to 25 per cent in 2010. Also, the percentage of workers with a degree in the highest skilled jobs in the country has fallen. In 1993, 68 per cent of workers with a degree were employed in a job in the highest skill group, falling to 57 per cent in 2010. The highest skilled jobs include those in managerial positions, engineers and accountants.

Around one in three jobs within the UK are for those known as lower-middle skill, typically jobs such as retail, secretarial roles or machine operatives. For people educated to around the GCSE or equivalent level it is these types of jobs that most of them were working in, or almost one in every two people with this type of qualification in 2010.

There has been a fall in the percentage of people with no formal educational qualification, from 25 per cent in 1993 to 11 per cent in 2010. This was mainly driven by people aged 50-64 in 1993 who, because of the education system at the time, were less likely to have stayed on in school to obtain a formal qualification. By 2010 these people were over the age of 64 and therefore likely to have retired from work.


  1. In short, these figures show that education pays. Yet students should make an informed choice, especially as the cost of a degree course is rising so steeply.

  2. This article is rather confusing with all the use of percentages as it lacks context. I think that the opening para is trying to imply that getting a degree isn’t a guarantee of higher income. But in telling us that one in five people with a degree earn less than a mean average of those who only reached A or GCSE level standard of education, it is comparing apples and pears statistically. Without actual figures and consideration of the median or modal averages, we cannot really compare salaries of those reaching either education level.

    Any comparison of differences in average income of those with a degree today and 1993 needs to be put into the context of percentage of the overall population with a degree (which it is noted has doubled) and the overall job market.

    The analysis of this latter point is confused in the report here. The data here does not show that the percentage of workers with a degree in the highest skilled jobs in the country has fallen. Rather, it shows a higher percentage of graduates in 1993 were employed in a job in the highest skill group. That is graduates are also being employed now in other types of job.

    If the number of graduates increases as a percentage of the population, then we will find other jobs becoming graduate opportunities – for example, PR is more or less a graduate occupation today where it was not in 1993.

    This means that a degree becomes a necessary qualification rather than a conduit to a higher salary. Its value is lessened if more people have reached the same level of education unless more opportunities are created (supply over demand). PR has been a growing occupation area, and although graduates are more prevalent in the field, they haven’t necessarily obtained a premium return. However, without the qualification, they would face a disadvantage over others.

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