The Age this morning reports the findings of 2006 census analysis I did wearing my University of Melbourne hat.
It looks at 18 and 19 year olds living at home (so we can see parental occupation and household income) to see how socieconomic background affects university and TAFE attendance rates. As there are similar census studies for 1991, 1996 and 2001, we can also observe trends over time.
For regular readers of this blog, the finding that the increased university attendance charges in 2005 had no negative impact on low SES attendance rates will come as no surprise. But the growth observed between 1991 and 2001 for all groups has stalled.
Unfortunately, the 1991 to 2001 census data does not disaggregate 18 and 19 year olds; which means it is hard for me to work out whether this is a real stalling, or a by-product of students starting university studies at a later age. For the 2006 census, there were significant increases in university attendance rates between age 18 and age 19 (21% of 18 year olds, 30% of 19 year olds).
The most striking finding, as it had been in earlier census-based studies, was that for the sons of blue collar families the normal pattern of university attendance increasing with household income is reversed. The more the family earns, the less likely it is that their sons will attend university, and the more likely it is that they will attend TAFE. For the daughters, the usual relationship is observed, but the attendance rate is only 3% higher in the wealthiest blue-collar families than it is in the poorest.
Presumably young working class guys whose fathers earn good money decide that following them into relatively lucrative blue-collar occupations is their best option. Their sisters probably have fewer well-paid job options, and better school results, so more of them go to university.
Despite widespread intuitions to the contrary, it remains very hard to find evidence that tuition costs are a big factor affecting working class university enrolment. A third of the blue-collar households in this data make $100,000 a year or more, but even they don’t achieve the university attendance rates of the poorest professional households.