Understanding university graduates’ social mobility trajectories: how does the route affect the outcome?
Wielgoszewska, Bozena Anna
University graduates’ social mobility trajectories have become more varied and complex as a result of substantial changes, which occurred in the labour market in the past few decades. These changes include expansion of higher education, occupational restructuring, and destandardisation of life course. As the relationship between graduates’ social mobility trajectories and their career pathways are more obscure in contemporary society, further investigations are required. In the past, education was considered a distinct early career stage, typically followed by full-time paid employment, during which an individual ascended the occupational ladder. More recently, the notion of a ‘job for life’ has been replaced with a notion of ‘boundaryless career’, which is less dependent on the traditional organisational career principles. Although these changes are widely recognised in scholarly rhetoric, the consequences of following different career routes for individual’s propensity to move across the social strata are less understood. The literature recognised both education and migration as factors, which can facilitate one’s social mobility, but their role in the ‘boundaryless careers’ is less clear. This thesis aims to better understand the relationships between graduates’ intra-generational social mobility trajectories and their career pathways, thereby contributing to the social mobility literature. More specifically, it aims to answer the following research questions: What are graduates’ typical intra-generational social mobility trajectories, and to what extent can they be explained by different types of career pathways? Can these relationships be explained by the attributes and circumstances observed prior to the start of their employment trajectory? What is the role of internal migration and higher education and in the context of different career types? In order to answer these questions, information about a sample of graduates was extracted from the 1970 British Cohort Study. Their economic activity histories were reconstructed and sequence analysis was used to derive a typology of graduates’ progression through social classes, distinguishing between lateral linear, lateral non-linear, upward linear, upward non-linear, and downward social mobility trajectories. A similar method was used to derive the typology of their career pathways, which distinguishes between stable, part-time, self-employed, and fragmented careers. A set of logistic regression models was fitted to test whether graduates’ career type can explain their social mobility trajectories. Having established a statistically significant relationship between these two concepts, the investigation was expanded by incorporating additional factors, which included the social, geographical and individual attributes observed in the to-be graduates’ early life, as well as the characteristics of their internal migration trajectories, and higher education. The results show that graduates’ social mobility is more complex than initially expected, and that the career pathway significantly explains some aspects of graduates’ social mobility, even after accounting for their higher education and migration. They also indicate that different career types operate on different principles, and therefore the context of the career is vital for understanding the social mobility-facilitating capability of higher education and internal migration. This implies that the increased variety and complexity of graduates’ careers, inherent in their nature, can contribute to better understanding of their progression via social strata, and points to the importance of longitudinal studies. The career type is recognised as the missing link in the contemporary social mobility research, and the recommendations are made to incorporate the characteristics of one’s career into future research.
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