Higher Education

, Volume 68, Issue 3, pp 449–469 | Cite as

The attainability of university degrees and their labour market benefits for young Australians



I used data from the 1995 cohort of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth to investigate the factors associated with the attainment of Australian university degrees and estimate their domestic labour market benefits. I considered vertical and horizontal stratification in education and examined monetary and non-monetary benefits. The probabilities of attaining a university degree differed significantly by individual and family background. Individual’s family backgrounds significantly predicted the prestige of their universities, but not their fields of study. University graduates enjoyed higher income and occupational prestige relative to non-graduates. Among university graduates, income and occupational benefits differed significantly by fields of study but less by the prestige of universities. These findings indicate that vertical stratification in education plays an important role in the intergenerational transmission of social status in Australia. My findings suggest that policies should ensure equal access to higher education for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Strategies to reduce inequality in higher education are discussed.


Higher education University degree Returns on education Youth labour market Occupational prestige Vertical stratification Horizontal stratification 



Funding and support for this project was provided by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations through the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) Research, Innovation and Expansion fund research fellowships managed by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER). The views and opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government, State and Territory governments or NCVER. I thank anonymous reviewers and Emeritus Professors Michael Pusey and Ralph Hall for helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social SciencesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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