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Does Your Degree Define Your Career? This product is designated as National Statistics

Released: 15 April 2013 Download PDF

Key points

Some undergraduate degrees lead to a well-defined career path. In London (2006-11):

  • 89% of architects with a single-subject first degree studied architecture, building or planning, and

  • People who studied architecture, building or planning as their first degree worked predominantly in two sectors: architecture, engineering and related activities (45%), and construction (18%).

Other undergraduate degrees lead to careers in a variety of occupations and sectors, for instance:

  • London residents who have studied business and administrative studies are employed in most sectors of the London economy, and

  • Less than one-fifth of London residents who studied creative arts and design worked in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector in 2006-11.

Introduction

Certain occupations require specialist degrees, while other occupations attract people from a variety of educational backgrounds, according to an analysis of Annual Population Survey (APS) data. Choice of degree subject may influence the occupation and the sector of the economy that you are eventually employed in, although a degree is not always necessary to enter the career you want.

The APS collects information from people about their occupations, the sector they work in and the subject of their undergraduate or first degree. This analysis uses the APS data to explore links between the single-subject undergraduate degrees that people study and the occupations and sectors they work in. It is not possible to include combined-subject degrees due to definitional differences and the fact that the level of specialism of combined degrees is not known; nor does the analysis cover postgraduate degree qualifications.

The workforce and degree qualifications

In the UK in November-January 2013, according to the Labour Force Survey, 59% of residents aged 16 and over were employed. The employment rate was higher for men (64%) than for women (53%)1. In London, 62% of residents aged 16 and over were employed. Again, this rate was higher for men than for women2.

Analysis using the APS shows that in 2011 (the latest year available), 24% of adults in the UK had a degree (undergraduate or postgraduate) as their highest educational qualification. The equivalent proportion in London was 39% (Figure 1). It is also possible to look at proportions of employed adults: 29% of employed adults in the UK and 48% of employed adults resident in London had a degree as their highest educational qualification in 2011.

Figures published by Higher Education Careers Services show that of the 297,105 students resident in the UK who graduated from university in summer 2011, 60% found employment in the UK within six months, and 2% found employment overseas. Just over one-fifth of the UK jobs were in London3. These proportions have persisted for the last few years, suggesting that London is attractive to recent graduates seeking employment.

The analysis below looks at employed adults (people aged 16 and over), providing a snapshot of the current workforce. It compares the picture in London with that of the UK as a whole, but it does not explore changes over time. Readers should note that the current workforce includes people who finished their degrees several decades ago as well as recent graduates. The proportion of working people with degrees has been rising in recent years as younger people, who have had greater access to higher education than previous generations, come into the workforce. Between 1996 and 2011, the proportion of working people resident in London with a degree rose from 24% to 48%4.

Notes for The workforce and degree qualifications

  1. ‘Labour Market Statistics, March 2013’, ONS, 20 March 2013, employment rate of people aged 16 and over from table A02, available at: www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/march-2013/index.html

  2. ‘Regional Labour Market Statistics, March 2013’, ONS, 20 March 2013, employment rate of people aged 16 and over in London from table HI07, available at: www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/subnational-labour/regional-labour-market-statistics/march-2013/index.html

  3. ‘What do graduates do?’, Higher Education Careers Service Unit, October 2012, available at: www.hecsu.ac.uk/current_projects_what_do_graduates_do.htm

  4. ‘Qualifications of the London workforce 1996 to 2011’, ONS, 29 August 2012, available at: www.ons.gov.uk/ons/about-ons/what-we-do/publication-scheme/published-ad-hoc-data/labour-market/august-2012/index.html

Occupations and degree subjects studied

Some occupations or professions have higher proportions of people with a degree as their highest educational qualification than others. For example in London in 2011, 92% of legal professionals, 86% of architects and 85% of teachers working in primary and nursery education had an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. This compared with 69% of librarians, 36% of hospitality and leisure managers and proprietors and 24% of secretaries.

It is possible to look at the information collected by the APS on single-subject undergraduate degrees to find out what subjects people in different occupations studied for their first degree. The figures presented below are an average of 2006-11 results (see Background notes).

In some occupations, the degree subjects studied are concentrated in a particular area. For example in 2006-11, 89% of architects resident in London with a single-subject degree had degrees in architecture, building or planning studies. The picture was similar for the UK as a whole (91%).

Over three-quarters of London’s resident legal professionals with a single-subject degree studied law as their first degree. Most of the rest did degrees in history, archaeology, philosophy or religious studies; languages, linguistics, classics or literature; or social sciences (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Single-subject degrees studied by London’s legal professionals, 2006-11 (%)

Single-subject degrees studied by London’s legal professionals, 2006-11 (%)
Source: Annual Population Survey (APS) - Office for National Statistics

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In 2006-11, the majority of teachers resident in London working in primary and nursery education with a single-subject degree had degrees in education (70%). The remaining 30% were spread across other degree subjects. This pattern is similar for the UK as a whole. It is clearly possible for people from a variety of backgrounds to become primary or pre-school teachers, perhaps teaching their degree subject as a specialty.

Some occupations recruit people from an even wider variety of subject areas. Two-fifths of librarians resident in London with a single-subject degree studied ‘mass communications and documentation’, which includes librarianship and other information studies. Another 21% studied history, archaeology, philosophy or religious studies, 9% studied social sciences, and 5% did one of the degrees in the ‘languages, linguistics, classics and literature’ category. The remaining 26% studied a variety of other subjects. Librarians in the UK as a whole were more likely than those in London to have studied mass communications and documentation (49%) and languages, linguistics, classics or literature (12%), and less likely to have studied the other degree subjects.

Occupations, sectors of work and degree subjects

It is also possible to look at the relationship between people’s occupations, the sectors they work in and the subjects they studied for their first degree. For instance, 76% of London residents who work in ‘sales’ occupations work in the retail sector. Figure 3 shows the proportion of people working in the retail sector (all occupations) with single-subject degrees by the subject they studied. In London, 22% have business and administrative studies degrees, 14% took creative arts or design, 13% studied subjects related to medicine (including nursing, but excluding medicine itself) and 8% studied social sciences.  However, Londoners employed in this sector also studied a variety of other subjects. London has a higher proportion of people working in the retail sector with business and administrative studies degrees than the rest of the UK, and a lower proportion with degrees in subjects related to medicine.

Figure 3: Single-subject degrees studied by people working in the retail sector, 2006-11 (%)

Single-subject degrees studied by people working in the retail sector, 2006-11 (%)
Source: Annual Population Survey (APS) - Office for National Statistics

Notes:

  1. For the retail sector in 2006-11 there are no ‘technologies’ degrees recorded in the category ‘engineering and technologies’; therefore all degrees in this category are engineering degrees.

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Some 30% of the UK’s finance and investment analysts and advisers live in London (2011). Most Londoners with this occupation work in the financial sector. We know from the Business Register and Employment Survey (2011) that most employment in London’s financial sector is in The City (43%), Tower Hamlets (21%) and Westminster (12%). Finance and investment analysts and advisers resident in London who held single-subject degrees in 2006-11 had degrees in a variety of subject areas including business and administrative studies (38%), social sciences (23%), mathematics or computing (12%), physical and environmental sciences (7%) and engineering (6%). In 2011, 14% of London’s finance and investment analysts and advisers did not have a degree.

Similar analysis for all sectors, looking at the percentage of jobs in each sector by degree subjects studied, is available from the publication Number of jobs in London by sector and by degree subject of single-subject degrees.

The majority of managers and proprietors in hospitality and leisure services in London (that is to say hotels, restaurants, public houses, travel agencies, and leisure/sports centres) do not have an undergraduate or higher degree as their highest educational qualification (in 2011, 35% had one). Of those who studied a single-subject degree, 37% took business and administrative studies. The rest studied a wide variety of other subjects including social sciences, creative arts, design, biological sciences, veterinary sciences, agricultural sciences, engineering, technologies, mathematics and computing. People in these occupations are employed predominantly in the accommodation, food, travel and sports sectors of the economy.

Does your degree define where you work?

So far, we have reviewed people’s occupations or professions and the sectors they work in. Now we will look at some of the subjects studied for single-subject undergraduate degrees and ask the question ‘Where do people who study these subjects end up working?’

Figure 4 shows the results for three degree subject categories: business and administrative studies; architecture, building and planning; and creative arts and design. London residents who have studied business and administrative studies find employment in most sectors of the London economy. By contrast, those who have studied architecture, building or planning are employed predominantly in two sectors: construction (18%) and ‘professional, scientific and technical activities’ (51%), where they are found mainly in the architecture, engineering and related activities sub-sector (45%).

Less than one-fifth (18%) of London residents who studied creative arts and design subjects work in the sector ‘arts, entertainment and recreation’. The remaining four-fifths are spread across the other sectors, most notably: professional, scientific and technical activities (18%), education (16%), information and communication (14%) and wholesale and retail (9%). The picture for the UK as a whole is different from that for London: in the UK, a lower proportion of people with creative arts or design degrees are employed in arts, entertainment and recreation (13%), in professional, scientific and technical activities (13%) and in information and communication (8%), while a higher proportion work in education (23%) and in wholesale and retail (11%).

Figure 4: Sector of employment of London residents who studied business, architecture and creative arts, 2006-11 (%)

Sector of employment of London residents who studied business, architecture and creative arts, 2006-11 (%)
Source: Annual Population Survey (APS) - Office for National Statistics

Notes:

  1. The figures for 'Creative arts and design' in the categories 'Primary and utilities' and 'Real estate' have been suppressed to avoid disclosure
  2. The category ‘Business and administrative studies’ includes subjects covering business studies, management, finance, accounting, marketing, human resources, office skills, tourism, transport and travel. The category ‘Creative arts and design’ includes subjects covering fine art, design studies, music, drama, dance, crafts and imaginative writing, cinematics and photography. Subject of single-subject degree is defined as variable SNGDEG (from 2004 onwards) in volume 5 of the Labour Force Survey user guidance at: www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/method-quality/specific/labour-market/labour-market-statistics/index.html

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Conclusion

In some cases the choice of undergraduate degree subject will have a strong influence on career paths, as in the cases of architecture and law which not only define people’s eventual occupations but also the sector they are employed in. However, in some cases the choice of first degree does not determine where people work. For instance, people with degrees in business and administrative studies and in creative arts and design are employed in most occupations and sectors of the economy.

Background notes

  1. The Annual Population Survey is an ONS survey covering approximately 155,000 households and 360,000 people across the UK each year. It asks people about their own circumstances and experiences on a range of subjects including housing, employment and education. For further information, please refer to the APS web pages, or for further information about the variables used in this analysis, please refer to the Labour Force Survey user guidance.

  2. Occupations and sectors of employed people are based on their main job. Occupations are defined according to the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 2010, and sectors are defined according to the UK Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) 2007. For 2006 to 2010, occupations data was originally collected on the basis of SOC2000; it has been converted to SOC2010 using a probability-based model.

  3. This analysis uses data on highest educational qualification (variable HIQUAL) to analyse proportions of people with a degree (undergraduate or postgraduate). This can be done for all residents or for employed adults. However, analysis of the subjects that people studied for their degrees is only possible for people who have a single-subject degree (variable SNGDEG). People who have degrees in combined subjects (variable CMBDEG) have been excluded because of definitional differences. Of all people resident in London who are known to have either a single-subject degree or combined degree, 94% have single-subject degrees.

  4. Unless otherwise specified, the analysis of single-subject degrees data (SNGDEG) was performed on all records for 2006 to 2011, and the results are averaged over this period. This is because in most cases several years of data are needed to provide sufficient sample size.

  5. Subject of single-subject degree (SNGDEG) is defined in volume 5 of the Labour Force Survey user guidance (from 2004 onwards). Single-subject degrees are classified according to subject area:

    1. Medicine and dentistry.

    2. Subjects related to medicine (incl. nursing).

    3. Biological sciences (incl. psychology).

    4. Veterinary science, agriculture and related subjects.

    5. Physical and environmental sciences.

    6. Mathematical sciences and computing.

    7. Engineering.

    8. Technologies (incl. mining, metallurgy, polymers & textiles).

    9. Architecture, building and planning.

    10. Social sciences.

    11. Law.

    12. Business and administrative studies (incl. management, finance and accounting).

    13. Mass communications and documentation.

    14. Linguistics, classics and related subjects (incl. English literature).

    15. European languages and literature.

    16. East, Asiatic, African, American and Australian languages and literature.

    17. History, archaeology, philosophy and religious studies.

    18. Creative arts and design (incl. music, drama and film studies).

    19. Education.

    For the purposes of this analysis, the following broad subject groups were created:

    • ‘Medicine, dentistry and psychology’ was created by combining psychology (code 3.8) with medicine and dentistry (code 1);

    • ‘Biological, veterinary and agricultural sciences’ was created by combining veterinary science and agriculture (code 4) with biological sciences (code 3), and by excluding psychology from this group;

    • ‘Engineering and technologies’ was created by combining technologies (code 8) with engineering (code 7); and

    • ‘Languages, linguistics, classics and literature’ was created by combining linguistics and classics (code 14), European languages and literature (code 15) and East, Asiatic, African, American and Australian languages and literature (code 16).

  6. This analysis covers all age groups in the workforce. If you are interested in the activities of newly qualified graduates, please refer to the publications of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit.

  7. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk

    These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

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