Less advantaged students not as likely to choose subjects they enjoy, new study finds

Students whose parents had only GCSE qualifications were found to be less likely to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, when compared to students whose parents had a degree.

For this study, researchers from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at UCL analysed information from the Next Steps age 14 survey. They discovered that those of you from more disadvantaged homes tended to take Social sciences, Business or Law, even if you had reported that you enjoyed Science and Maths.

At age 14 we asked you to rate your enjoyment of English, Maths and Science, and we later asked which subjects you studied at university. Participation in STEM subjects was compared with take-up of Social sciences, Business and Law, and Arts and Humanities subjects.

This research raises awareness of the need to recruit less advantaged students to participate in STEM subjects.  Natasha Codiroli-McMaster, the author of this paper, has proposed some explanations for why there is a difference in subject choices for less advantaged students.

“These findings show important differences in the mechanisms driving disparities in subject choices by gender and social background,” Codiroli-McMaster says. “While interventions targeting the individual attitudes of young women towards STEM subjects may improve gender diversity, the same approach may not work as well for targeting less advantaged students.”

“Those students who attended university, whose parents are not also well educated, may have very different concerns about life after university. More advantaged students are more likely to succeed whichever subject they choose, and have more of a ‘safety net’ to fall back on if things don’t work out immediately.”