1989 babies almost three times more likely to have a degree compared to those born in 1958, analysis shows

graduation ceremony

At the beginning of the century around 25 to 35 per cent had fathers in professional occupations. This had risen to around 50 per cent among those arriving at Oxford in the 1960s

Children born to non-graduate parents in 1989 were almost three times more likely to get a degree compared to those born in 1958, new analysis shows.

Graduation rates for those who were the first in their family to pursue higher education rose from 11 per cent to 30 per cent during that period, experts have found.

Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, and Andrew Eyles, from University College London, tracked how the probability of becoming the first in your family to get a university degree has changed over time, in different regions of England, by looking at the progress of people born in 1958, in 1970 and in 1989.

This is the first time the statistics, produced for the LSE event “Smashing the Class Ceiling”, have been compiled in this way, to show trends over a 30-year period.

Greater London has seen significant success in educational social mobility. For those born in London in 1958, the probability of getting a degree if neither parent had gone to university was 12 per cent. This jumped to 37 per cent for those born in 1989 – the highest of all English regions. In 1970, children born in Yorkshire and the Humber, and the North West, had the same odds of being the first graduate in the family as in London (17 per cent). By 1989 they had fallen behind to 29 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.

The probability of being the first in the family to get a degree in the South West, for those born in 1958, was 13 per cent. But for those born in 1989, this number was 23 per cent.

In 1970, about 50 per cent of children born to graduate parents could expect to get a degree, while only 16 per cent of children from non-graduate households had the same expectation. This gap closed dramatically for those born in 1989: about 55 per cent of those born to graduate parents obtained a degree, while 30 per cent of children born to non-graduate households also obtained a degree.

For those born in 1958 in the North East, fewer than one in 10 (9 per cent) were the first in their family to obtain a degree – the then lowest in the whole of England. By 1970, this had risen to 15 per cent and then to 30 per cent for those born in 1989. Only those from London had a higher chance of getting a degree.

Professor Elliott Major said: “Improving social mobility, and access to education, is incredibly important. Having a university degree increases the chance of employment and of higher earnings. The focus now needs to be on making sure opportunities are equal across the UK. Our research shows worrying regional gaps over previous generations and it is key this doesn’t continue in the future.”

Professor Elliot Major will be speaking at the LSE event “Smashing the Class Ceiling” this week, where he will argue universities will need to be more radical in how they spot and develop talent from all backgrounds given the likely increasing competition for places over the next decade and widening education inequalities at school.