Working class social science graduates will start in less prestigious occupations than their higher-class peers, research by the University of Cologne reveals.

As those from advantaged backgrounds are more likely to have financial support from their parents and might be more accustomed with ‘soft skills’ relevant for more prestigious occupations, like managerial positions, they are protected from accepting jobs that don’t match their skill set.

The research shows that parental social and cultural capital may be essential to gain access to prestigious entry positions for social science graduates. Graduates from a working-class background can overcome this disadvantage and catch-up with their peers from a higher-class but it will take them eight years.

This is because there are fewer opportunities for improvement for graduates who start in higher-status positions, allowing those from a lower-class to catch-up.

“Parental resources and support can be particularly helpful; parents’ social networks may provide access to information about potential employers and their cultural capital is considered to be beneficial during the recruitment process.

“However, later in their career, potential employers will either observe an employee’s productivity or evaluate an applicant’s accumulated work experience. This allows those from lower-class backgrounds to compensate for their initial disadvantage,” says Professor Marita Jacob.

The catching-up process show that factors, such as parent resources, that are advantageous for initial job hunting, do not provide a persistent advantage over graduates from a working-class background throughout their whole careers.

Interestingly, the researchers only found the impact on graduates in the social sciences, not for graduates in humanities, arts, or STEM fields.

The study was conducted on more than 800 graduates over a 10-year span and was published in the British Journal of Sociology.


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