CAREERS FOR SOCIAL SCIENCE GRADUATES AND WHY NUMBER AND DATA SKILLS MATTER
These degrees cover a wide range of fields including social studies, business & administrative studies, architecture, building & planning, law, education, and psychology. This report describes where these graduates go to work in their first jobs and examines their future prospects.
After their undergraduate degrees, these social scientists go on to work in spectrum of sectors and occupations, with employment rates similar to graduates in STEM.
In the UK, AS level mathematics intake is falling, and many secondary school students have little exposure to using numbers and data to examine social science issues in their subjects. The evidence shows why that matters:
The Academy has over 1,100 Fellows, eminent academics and practitioners in business, government and other walks of society. Forty-two learned societies are also members, so that the Academy represents over 90,000 social scientists working throughout the United Kingdom. The social scientists we represent range from those in traditional academic settings to many others working in government, the private sector and the third sector, all using their social science knowledge and skills in their work.
The Campaign takes forward work not only to represent the social sciences, but is also concerned to promote the long-term health and well- being of the social science disciplines themselves. One of the Campaign’s long-standing aims is to promote social science education that will equip the next generation of researchers with number and data skills so that the social sciences can play their full part in the important issues facing the UK.
This report is a contribution to that discussion. It shows that social science undergraduates have good employment prospects, even in the short-term after university. The findings build on previous work by the Campaign, published in 2013 that used 2010 data. But Positive Prospects uses updated data to take a more detailed look at employment destinations and outcomes for a range of social science disciplines. It also pulls together evidence about earnings. While there is variation among disciplines, and this report only examines destinations immediately after graduation, it shows that undergraduates in the social sciences generally have good employment prospects.
However, Positive Prospects highlights another message too. If undergraduates have number and data skills – either acquired at schools or as part of their undergraduate studies – they are likely to have a wider range of choices and possibly to earn more. In other words, these skills add a dimension that is valued by employers. This is not, of course, to say that number and data skills are the only thing that matters, or that all social science undergraduates need the same level of such skills. But it does show that having these skills offers additional opportunities to those who have them. The Campaign for Social Science also believes that it is important for students from a wide range of disciplines to have these skills so that the full range of disciplinary perspectives can be brought to bear in important policy and public debates using social science evidence.
Another important message in this report is that social science training and skills are in demand – often because they provide the appropriate level of rigour, subject-specific knowledge, conceptual thinking and intellectual curiosity that meets the needs of a fast changing labour market. Social scientists currently in the education pipeline will be able to blend what they know and how they think with other disci- plines. These intersections are increasingly the hallmark of a future knowledge economy that will rely on technical mastery alongside critical thinking.
This report was originally aimed at giving information useful to social science undergraduates and to school students considering studying social sciences in their undergraduate years. With the recent announcement of the Government’s review of higher education, it will also undoubtedly be relevant to debates about employment prospects after university. The findings here will challenge presentations of an over-simplified picture of employment prospects by discipline, since the report gives some indication of just how many factors come into play, and how there is variation in STEM subjects as well as the social sciences.
The Campaign wishes to thank SAGE Publishing for their support and for publishing this report. We have also produced summaries for schools and school students, and for undergraduates. We will look forward to further discussion about the issues raised by the report with diverse audiences, including learned societies, universities, policy-makers and others.
Professor Shamit Saggar CBE FAcSS
Chair, Campaign for Social Science
What do we mean by the term ‘social science’? In this report we take a broad view, but at root the social sciences are disciplines linked by their common ‘focus on the study of contemporary human societies, economies, organisations and cultures, and their development’. Where possible in this report, we include information for a wide-range of social science fields including: social studies (like politics, economics, sociology, and geography); business & administrative studies (like finance and accounting); architecture, building & planning (like urban planning); law; education; and psychology.
After their undergraduate degrees, they go on to work in a wide range of sectors and occupations, with employment rates similar to graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). Social science graduates are valued not only for their discipline-specific knowledge, but also for their critical analysis and writing skills, which are especially important in many of the professional and management jobs for which they are hired.
In part, it updates a previous Campaign for Social Science report on graduate destinations that looked at students who graduated in 2008/09.
Here we focus on students who graduated in 2015/16. But this report also covers new topics. We look at how the prospects of graduates across the many disciplines of social science may vary, as well as at dif- ferences between male and female graduates. We include information about outcomes for those attending different types of university. Finally, we add coverage of student number and data skills, and what difference these skills may make to employment prospects. This includes a brief look at pathways from AS/A level to university and subsequent employment.
In many of today’s jobs – and for virtually every major challenge faced by the UK – there is a need to bring together social scientists’ general ana- lytic skills and knowledge of society with better understanding and use of data of all sorts (ranging from ‘big data’ to surveys to individual data). Data have transformed the information available to decision-makers in public policy, healthcare, education, and the private sector. To ensure that social science insights can play their part, and to ensure continued buoyancy in the employment prospects of social science graduates, more social scientists need to engage with the growing need for number and data skills, alongside their existing ability to use all types of information to describe and analyse.
So this report aims to encourage a larger number of those interested in social science – whether school students preparing for university or undergraduates – to consider how they might better engage with num- ber and data skills. In the UK, AS level mathematics intake is falling, which has been attributed to the decoupling of AS and A levels,6 and many secondary school students have little exposure to using numbers and data to examine social science issues within their subjects. The evidence presented here shows why that matters.
This report proceeds as follows. Chapter 2 examines the career, employment, and earnings prospects of UK social science graduates, updating our 2013 report ‘What do social science graduates do?’. Chapter 3 looks at the future outlook for UK social scientists, high- lighting the skills that will be needed in the future, especially in light of the digital revolution. Chapter 4 looks at pathways from school to university to employment, focusing in particular on the importance of number and data skills. Chapter 5 concludes the report with a discussion of some implications for higher education and research, employers, policy-makers and students.
A final note. The information presented in Chapter 2, using HESA data, covers all UK universities and graduates. In Chapters 3 and 4, we note where data do or do not include evidence from Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland.
When we look at the big picture – at the social sciences, the other sciences, and the arts and humanities – the employment rates of graduates from UK universities do not differ significantly from one another a year after graduation (see Figure 1).
According to 2015/16 data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), 66% of full-time, first-degree students in the social sciences were employed in the UK or abroad one year after they graduated, in comparison to 70% in the sciences and 66% in the arts & humanities. This means that at least two-thirds of each group were in full-time employment. If we include those who also combined their employment with further study, the number of those in work rises to almost three- quarters for each group (72% for the social sciences, 74% for the other sciences, and 72% for the arts & humanities). An additional 18% of social science graduates, and 17% of graduates from the other sciences and the arts & humanities, chose to pursue further study without working. Just 5% of social science and science graduates, and 6% of arts & humanities graduates, reported that they were unemployed. And remember, this is employment only one year after graduation, when some students will be taking a break of one sort or another.
Figure 1 Destinations of Full-Time UK Graduates, 2015/16
This means that about nine in ten (or 90%) of social science graduates are working, continuing their studies, or both, as are graduates from STEM (91%) or the arts & humanities (89%).
Figure 2 provides an overview of the prospects for UK social science graduates across these different employment categories.
Employment rates do, of course, vary for those with different undergraduate degrees within this broader category of social science, just as they do for the different subjects within STEM or the arts & humanities (see Figure 3).
Figure 2 Destinations of Full-Time UK Social Science Graduates, 2015/16
The gender gap in employment – the difference between the rates of male and female employment – also remains low, at 3% or below for most of the social sciences, and often favours female graduates (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 Percentage of Full-Time UK Graduates in UK and Overseas Work, 2015/16
The employment rates of graduates with social science degrees improve with time. If we look at the data for the 2004/05 graduating cohort from the Department of Education’s Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) Dataset, for example, we see that although the number of those in sustained employment with or without further study varies by discipline, these numbers also rise over the five years after graduation for each discipline (see Figure 4).
Figure 4 UK Social Science Graduates in Sustained Employment with or without Further Study
Of course, some social science subjects naturally have lower full-time employment rates right after graduation because these fields often require postgraduate study or training. If we include those in further study, or those who combine their studies with work, we see that there is a far larger percentage of graduates in these fields engaged in career-building activities. For example, 91% of UK law graduates are in work, further study, or both – as are 88% of graduates in social studies; 89% in business & administrative studies; and 94% in education (see Figure 5).
Figure 5 Destination of Full-Time UK Graduates, by Subject 2015/16
Looking at separate social science disciplines, prospects for employment are clearly related to whether students in different areas normally go on to postgraduate study. For example, as Figure 6 shows, 81% of accountancy graduates will be in some form of work a year after graduation – as will 79% of architecture, 77% of finance, and 70% of economics graduates. Some professionalised degrees also have high employment right after graduation, like training teachers, of which 94% were in some form of work a year after graduation. Other professionalised degrees, as men- tioned above, often require or encourage further study, like psychology where only 67% were in work a year after study, but another 23% were already in further study by that time.
Figure 6 Destination of Full-Time UK Social Science Graduates, by Principal Subject 2015/16
There also appear to be opportunities to improve these employment numbers for UK social science graduates, if they are able to demonstrate that they possess the types of number and data skills that employers of social scientists are increasingly looking for. This is explored further in Chapter 4.
Data from the HESA Destination of Leavers dataset for 2015/16 show that social science graduates leave university to work in a wide range of industries, from finance to public administration (see Figure 7). Looking across the social sciences as a whole, almost two in every ten graduates go into either the education or the professional, scientific, and technical activities sector. Other popular industries include the financial and insurance activities sector, wholesale and retail trade, human health and social work activities, and public administration and defence – with almost one in ten graduates going into each one of these industries, respectively.
Figure 7 Industry of Full-Time UK Social Science Graduates Entering Employment in the UK, 2015/16
If we look at the separate degree subjects within social science, the pat- tern remains largely similar with some minor variations. Figure 8 shows the top three choices of industry among full-time graduates entering employment for a selection of different social science degrees, ranging from psychology to finance.
Figure 8 Top 3 Industries of UK Graduates Entering Employment with a Selection of Specific Social Science Degrees, 2015/16
The HESA data also show that just over three-quarters (or 76%) of social science graduates leave university to work in some type of professional occupation as their first job (see Figure 9). The majority of the professional occupations that graduates enter are: business and public service associate professionals (31% of graduates); business, media and public service profes- sionals (17% of graduates); and teaching and education professionals (11%).
Just under a quarter (or 24%) of social science graduates leave university to work in non-professional occupations. The most popular among these include administrative (8%), caring personal service (6%), and sales occu- pations (3%). But remember, these are the very first jobs taken up within a year of graduation, so they are not necessarily where graduates end up.
The number of social science graduates going into professional occupa- tions does, however, vary by discipline. Figure 10 shows the top three choices of occupation among full-time graduates entering employment for a selection of specific social science degrees. While 58% of psychology and sociology graduates enter ‘professional’ occupations, over three- quarters of geography (78%), politics (76%), and finance (78%) students do. In other fields, the numbers are far higher, with almost nine out of ten (or 89%) of economics graduates entering professional occupations. Again, in Chapter 4, we discuss whether some of these differences may relate to having number and data skills.
Figure 9 Occupation of Full-Time, First-Degree Leavers Entering Employment in the UK, by Subject Area of Degree 2015/16
Figure 10 Top 3 Occupations of UK Graduates Entering Employment with a Selection of Specific Social Science Degrees, 2015/16
A recent report from the British Council examined the educational and career pathways of over a thousand public and private sector leaders globally and found that ‘most leaders have degrees in social sciences and humanities’. That study found that 60% of global leaders are social scientists, with undergraduate degrees in education, business, or other social science fields (see Figure 11).
In certain leadership roles, these numbers are even more stark: 61% of leading politicians internationally are graduates of the social sciences (including business and other social sciences). Globally, social science graduates make up 62% of civil servant leaders, 70% of leading financial services and consulting professionals, and 93% of the leaders in law and legal services.
There are also significant proportions of social science graduates in positions of leadership in fields that might not be expected. According to the British Council report, 50% of leaders in energy and environment, 46% of leaders in technology and innovation, 40% of leaders in health, and 35% of leaders in defence and security are graduates of the social sciences (including business and other social sciences).
Figure 11 Undergraduate Subject Studied by Global Leaders
Moreover, more than half of these leaders held advanced (postgraduate) degrees in the social sciences and humanities, with a far larger proportion of these coming from the social sciences than from the humanities.
So far we have looked only at employment prospects for first jobs. We now look at what the data show about earnings after graduation. Individuals make their own choices about what subjects to study at school based on a wide range of factors – many of which are driven by what motivates and interests them – and earning levels are certainly not the only important aspect of work that determines the choices students make. But it is useful to know that the undergraduate subject choice may have an impact on future earnings potential.
Generally, social science graduates do well in terms of earnings. One year after graduation, the median salary of all UK-domiciled full-time graduates in the social sciences was broadly similar to the median salary of all subjects combined. (All the earnings data presented in this report show earnings at the time, and have not been adjusted for inflation, so they would be higher in 2018/19.)
Figure 12 Median Salary of UK-Domiciled Full-Time UK Graduates, by Subject 2015/16
If we look at different subjects, economics graduates have a higher salary among the upper quartile of reported earnings one year after graduation, than the graduates of other social science disciplines. The three social science degree subjects with the highest median salaries a year after graduation are economics, building, and social work. We may expect that subjects with some of the highest salaries right out of university would include professionalised degrees where graduates may have less need to pursue further study to advance their careers in the near term, like building and social work.
But it is notable too that higher salaries are also associated with a number of subjects where we might expect students to graduate university with good number and data skills, like economics, finance, and business studies. Figure 13 shows the lower quartile, upper quartile, and median salaries for social science graduates by principal subjects one year after leaving university, where there were at least 200 graduates surveyed. Economics students reported the highest earnings in the upper quartile, and some of the highest median and even lower quartile earnings, among graduates in the social sciences.
Figure 13 Salaries of Full-Time UK Social Science Graduates 2015/16, by Principal Subject
These are, of course, just the raw numbers. They do not control for other factors that will affect salary, and do not take account of the fact that different types of students choose different subjects. However, research conducted by Britton, Dearden, Shepard, and Vignoles in 2016 tells us that once different courses and student characteristics are taken into account, ‘variation in graduate earnings are reduced’, and for those graduates at the lower end of the earnings spectrum there is also ‘little variation by subject’ or gender. Yet, within the group of graduates earning the highest salaries, ‘subject matters more for both genders … in particular graduates of medicine, law, economics, and languages continue to go on to achieve much higher earnings’.
Britton et al. also found that both ‘at the median and 90th percentile in most institutions [Law, Economics and Management] LEM graduates have higher earnings than graduates in STEM or in [other] subjects’. This is probably due to the professional focus of these particular subjects. Interestingly, they also found that ‘this effect is stronger at institutions that have higher median graduate earnings’. And they conclude that, ‘within institutions, subject choice is important’. So the subjects that undergraduates study and their institutions are both important for future earnings.
Figure 14 Median Earnings of UK-Domiciled First-Degree Graduates in 2003/04 from English Universities, Over Time and by Subject
Looking at the most recently available data, social scientists also appear to do well over the life of their careers in terms of likely salaries. Data from the UK government’s Department for Education Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) Dataset for UK-domiciled first-degree graduates from higher education institutions (HEIs) in England show that social science graduates in all broad subject categories have good earnings growth potential over the course of their careers (see Figure 14).
For example, the median salary of a social studies graduates in 2003/04 – which includes graduates from politics, sociology, social policy, social work, anthropology, human and social geography, development studies, as well as those in other or broadly-based social studies programmes – rose from a median of £15,500 one year after graduation to £29,000 ten years after graduation. Over that same period, income for graduates in education progressed from £19,000 to £28,500; in business and administrative studies from £16,500 to £32,000; in law from £14,500 to £34,000; and in architecture, building, and planning from £22,000 to £35,500.
Subject choice matters to future earnings potential. In 2003/04, graduates in economics had a median salary of £18,000 one year after graduation, but this rose to £48,000 ten years later. This may be because economics graduates tend to have the type of number and data skills that make them attractive to employers, in addition to subject knowledge and access to employment opportunities in areas like financial services. As will be explored in Chapter 3, adding number and data skills to a student’s personal ‘skills toolkit’ at AS/A level may increase the future options and earnings potential of undergraduates in other social science subjects as well.
To place all of this in context, the university students attend can also influence future earnings. If we start by looking at just the raw numbers, without controlling for other factors, graduates with degrees in the social sciences from Russell Group universities tend to do better not just in terms of median salaries, but also in terms of the upper and lower quartiles of salaries they reported (see Figure 15). In 2015/16, for example, the highest earning economics graduates from a Russell Group university earned £32,500 one year after university versus those from non-Russell Group universities earning £28,000. The median reported salaries of Russell Group economics graduates were £4,400 more than their non- Russell Group counterparts, while reported salaries in the lower quartile were £2,500 higher than economics graduates from non-Russell Group universities. (Of course, part of this difference arises because students attending different universities may have different characteristics.)
Figure 15 Salaries of Full-Time UK Social Science Graduates in the UK, 2015/16, by Principal Subject
The research of Britton et al. shows that graduates of many of the UK’s Russell Group universities are more likely to be in the top third of median annual earnings. These differences are greater for males than females. London-based universities also generally do well in terms of graduate earnings, suggesting regional differences in where graduates go on to work (see Figures 16 and 17).
Figure 16 Britton et al.’s Analysis of Female Median Earnings by Higher Education Provider (Reproduced with permission)
Figure 17 Britton et al.’s Analysis of Male Median Earnings by Higher Education Provider (Reproduced with permission)
Britton et al.’s work also demonstrates that for both males and females there is ‘strong evidence’ that ‘institution choice … conditional on subject choices’ does matter. Their work shows that ‘LEM earnings are much greater for some institutions than others’ and that ‘at the top end of the earnings distribution, institution choice matters more’.
It should be noted, however, that the high reported earnings of graduates from some institutions may be due to the selectivity of these universities’ entrance requirements. For example, when Britton et al. modelled predicted earnings at different UK universities to control for a number of factors, including previous academic attainment, they found that differences remained across institutions but that they were less dramatic.
In addition to their discipline-specific skill-sets, a recent report by the British Academy (The Right Skills) found that UK social science graduates possess a general set of skills (or ‘core skills’) that employers find valuable. These include the ability to communicate clearly and work effectively with others, their capabilities in designing research, collecting and analysing evidence, and making decisions, as well as useful behavioural and non-cognitive skills in problem solving, independence, creativity, and adaptability.
But the workplace is changing, and many jobs now require number and data skills that may not have been as important in the past. Research undertaken by Mason, Nathan, and Rosso in 2015 for the British Academy found that:
the growth in demand for QS [quantitative skills] reflects the impact of increasing pressures to improve efficiency and quality standards and engage in innovation, all of which require constant monitoring and interpretation of data of different kinds. At the same time, the widespread use of Information Technology (IT) in workplaces has not reduced the need for [quantitative skills] but rather changed the nature of the skills required.
There are also new opportunities for those graduates with the ability to analyse, research, and track data, which are increasingly available on almost every aspect of our lives. These big data, collected from a range of everyday activities, are a vital and growing sector in the UK economy. A 2016 report from the Centre for Economics & Business Research (CEBR) estimates that ‘from 2015 to 2020 … the total benefit to the UK economy of big data analytics [will] amount to £241 billion, or £40 billion on average per year’. Put another way, by 2020 the CEBR estimates that ‘the value of big data analytics is expected to reach … 2.2% of GDP’.
As a result, social scientists with good number and data skills are needed in the UK economy now more than ever. Understanding the growing wealth of data available and being able to use it to help solve the challenges we face globally and nationally – from the environment to disease control – will benefit from a social science understanding of society, human behaviour and interaction. Number and data skills ‘are rarely used in isolation and often need to be combined with other generic skills’, such as social science understanding, to be most effective.
For example, there is a growing need for social scientists who can use data to improve health-related behaviour, to help with urban and rural planning, to assess ‘what works’ in education, and so on. It is important that these issues are considered by a wide range of disciplines, including geographers and psychologists, sociologists and political scientists, and anthropologists as well as economists and lawyers – and number and data skills will be important if each discipline is to play its part.
Moreover, those in the technology sector are increasingly aware of the need for social scientists to help solve some of the unique social problems and challenges presented by advances in information and data technology. This might mean helping to understand how new technologies like artificial intelligence might be accepted by society in different areas of our life, or providing guidelines for the ethical use of platforms like Facebook or YouTube. Already, companies like Google are helping to fund organisations like Full Fact to try to create an automated fact-checking system to help combat the growing issue of ‘fake news’. Or, as Hartley highlights in his recent book The Fuzzy and the Techie, it might mean a company developing driverless cars like Nissan hiring an anthropologist to ‘design and lead company research into human machine interaction’. As Hartley’s work explains, ‘though gaining literacy in tech tools is important’ in order to contribute to innovation in the tech sector, ‘a technical degree is not required’.
There is a high demand for number and data skills in the UK labour mar- ket, across graduates from all disciplines. In their research, Mason et al. found that in looking at the ‘highest level of quantitative skills used in jobs’ among 20 to 60 year-olds, an increasing percentage felt that advanced mathematical and statistical skills were important to their work (see Figure 18). Looking at National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) estimates derived from the 2012 Skills and Employment Survey, they also found that advanced mathematical and statistical skills are ‘essential or very important’ for managers and professionals, and that those professionals ‘making essential or very important use of advanced QS mathematics/statistics are most commonly found’ within those sectors that social scientists often populate, like ‘financial services … business services … [and] education’.
Figure 18 Importance of Advanced Mathematics and Statistics
But while there is clearly a high demand for these skills in the UK labour market, there may not be enough people with number and data skills to meet demand in the future. The early specialisation of UK secondary and higher education means that many social scientists entering the labour market now may not have taken any mathematics or statistics since they turned 16 – making it difficult for them to make the most of the many opportunities for interesting careers that are open to them today.
In a 2010 survey of 24 countries, Hodgen et al. (2010) found that only in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland do fewer than 20% of 16 to 19 year-olds study maths. The 2017 CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey found that 39% of UK school leavers did not achieve a GSCE Maths grade of C or better, and 29% of UK employers are dissatisfied with school and college leavers’ basic numeracy skills. In 2016 the CBI/ Pearson Survey found that the level of UK businesses that are ‘not confident there will be enough people available in the future with the skills to fill their high-skilled jobs’ had reached 69%. Improving the number and data skills of social scientists entering the workforce may, therefore, do a lot to increase their appeal to UK employers.
The numbers of social science undergraduates who have completed AS or A levels in mathematics varies by the subject of their degree, partly because some disciplines require or encourage applicants to have them. But even those aiming to apply for other social science dis- ciplines might benefit from pursuing a qualification that improves their number and data skills.
Figure 19 shows the proportion of undergraduates going into university with either an AS, A, or IB in mathematics, using data from the 2017 Interim Report on the Mathematical Backgrounds of Undergraduates by Hodgen et al. That report groups the broader degree fields by how mathematically ‘demanding’ they are – according to whether entering students have a high, medium, or low level of number skills when studying them. Hodgen et al. argue there tends to be a medium level of background in number skills among most of the broader social science subject groupings, with the exception of law, where a relatively low level of number skills is common (though students might benefit if they have them). But even within the broad subject groupings, there is much variation depending on the specific subject being studied, as the extracts for biology and business studies show.
Figure 19 Mathematical Backgrounds of Undergraduates
For example, across the broader field of ‘business and administrative studies’ as a whole, only about two out every ten students entered university with a post-16 maths qualification. Yet, in fact, more than five out of ten incoming university students doing degrees in finance or accounting were reported to have a post-16 maths qualification, while fewer than one in ten of students doing degrees in marketing or human resources management had such a qualification.
Another report (by Hillman 2014) gives more detailed data about the mathematics qualifications of those entering social sciences at univer- sity in 2007 and 2010. As Figure 20 shows, only in economics do as many as six out of ten entrants to university have A level mathematics. For geography and psychology, the figure was around two out of ten entrants, while fewer than one in ten or one in twenty of those studying political science or sociology (respectively) did so.
This matters for various reasons. First, it limits the types of questions and evidence that different social science disciplines can look at. And second, it means that graduates from these disciplines are less likely to have the number and data skills that employers increasingly seek.
Figure 20 Undergraduates with A Level Mathematics, by Subject of Study at University
Before reforms to the UK curriculum put in place in 2016, the num- bers of students taking A level mathematics was growing steadily, but the numbers of students taking AS level was growing at an even higher rate (see Figure 21). Changes since then, however, have meant that AS level mathematics is no longer encouraged as a stand-alone qualification and there is no longer funding to promote its uptake by students. Figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications show that fewer students took AS level mathematics in 2016 and 2017 than did so in 2015, and the numbers of those pursuing the qualification seem to be on a downward trajectory (see Figure 21).
Figure 21 AS and A Level Mathematics Entries (UK)
This is a concern, since for many going on to study the social sciences, AS level mathematics or statistics are an important way of refreshing and increasing number and data skills, especially given the increasing focus on statistics in both academic and professional settings. Recent changes to school funding that encourage the uptake of A level mathematics may help to correct this problem, but a stand-alone AS level qualification in mathematics still has value for those who want to pursue a degree or a career in the social sciences, but who may not wish to take a full A level in mathematics.
We have previously noted that having number and data skills may open up more choices for students studying social sciences, and that the ‘grand challenges’ facing the UK would benefit if more people had both number and data skills and social science training. But there is evidence too that taking A level mathematics or statistics has a positive impact on earnings after graduation, regardless of what subjects are studied at university. Research by Adkins and Noyes (2017) found ‘compelling evidence of continued wage returns up to 11%’ for those who have taken A level mathematics, and ‘a potential 7–10% increase in earnings by age 33’ for those who have taken A level mathematics or computing. It also seems reasonable to think that AS level mathematics, even as a stand-alone qualification, may have an impact on future earnings. In any case, Adkins and Noyes, for example, also found that ‘mathematical skills, whether measured as ability scores at age 10, qualification grades at age 16 or completion of A level Mathematics, have a strong and positive association with earnings at age 34’.
Figure 22 Britton et al.’s Analysis of Female Annual Earnings by Subject (Reproduced with permission)
Figure 23 Britton et al.’s Analysis of Male Annual Earnings by Subject (Reproduced with permission)
Of special interest to female students is the ‘wage gap’ of about 20% between the earnings of men and women in the UK by the age of 34. Part of this is because of the different patterns of subjects men and women tend to take from age 16 on. Yet, according to Adkins and Noyes, although women are less likely to take A level mathematics than men, those women who do choose to take A level maths receive a higher wage return for doing so than their male counterparts.
If we group subjects by the level of number skills they demand, it appears that graduates of subjects with a medium demand for quantitative skills – i.e. those which require some number and data as well as other skills – appear to have among the highest numbers in employment or further study one year after graduation, and that these numbers are generally higher for women (see Figure 24).
Figure 24 Percentage of Full-Time First-Degree Leavers in UK or Overseas Work, by the Level of Mathematical Demand Required by their Degree Subjects, 2015/16
Graduates from social science subjects that are more likely to employ number and data skills, and who are more likely to have A level mathematics, also appear to do particularly well in terms of earnings. Figure 25 uses data from an Index created by Sloane and O’Leary (2004), which shows the percentage returns to a variety of undergraduate degrees, controlling for student quality, in relation to an arts degree. A male graduate in accountancy, for example, was found by Sloane and O’Leary to have an hourly earnings premium of 42% relative to an arts graduate, and a female graduate in accountancy a premium of 37%. This Index helps to highlight the higher earnings return for graduates from social sciences like accountancy and economics, where students will often have both post-16 mathematics qualifications as well as other more general skills in analysis.
Figure 25 Estimated Earning Returns to University Degrees by Subject
The evidence in this report has come from many sources, looking at different graduating cohorts, and at data that did not follow particular individuals from 16 through to employment. This means that we have to be careful in making claims about causes; we are certainly not saying that taking A level maths in addition to, say, any particular social science degree will definitely mean get- ting a secure job with a higher salary than would otherwise be the case.
It is clearly important, too, that students are engaged with and interested in what they are studying, and that we recognise there are many different pathways and skills in the wide range of social science disciplines at university.
But taken together, the findings of the data we have analysed, the reports we have cited (and others from the United States, for example82) on the whole appear to tell a similar story. There is a compelling case to be made – to school students, undergraduates, universities and policy- makers – that the employment prospects of those studying undergraduate social sciences are good, and that having number and data skills may help give individuals more choices.