Socioeconomic status still influences school performance

Media release 17 March 2014

As was the case in the mid-1970s, socioeconomic status (SES) still remains a major influencer on school performance.

This is the finding from the report Intergenerational mobility: new evidence from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth, published by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) that examines the extent of changes in intergenerational mobility in Australia since the 1970s.

Using data from the Youth in Transition study (YIT) and the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY), the report looks at the ranking of student’s educational achievement in literacy and numeracy tests at ages 14 and 15, and their Tertiary Entrance Ranking (TER) at ages 18 and 19 on the one hand; and parents’ SES on the other.

“The authors find that in terms of completion of Year 12, the relationship between parents’ SES and their children’s outcomes has weakened as more young people complete Year 12 today compared with the 1970s.  

“But when it comes to literacy rankings and Tertiary Entrance Rankings (TERs), there is little evidence of an increase in intergenerational mobility,” said Rod Camm, NCVER’s Managing Director.

Mr Camm said the findings are interesting in a number of respects.

“The finding that mothers’ highest level of education and occupation is now much more significant than it was previously is important for the study of intergenerational mobility. This is in part because research has historically focused on the passing of SES from fathers to sons,” he said.

The authors suggest that broader changes in Australian society may have had contradictory effects.

“The expansion of education to people from lower SES backgrounds; the considerable resources given to schools with low SES; and the increase in government cash transfers targeted at the more disadvantaged families, should have reduced inequality and promoted social mobility.

“However, a number of other factors may have been working against this, such as increased credentialism in the labour market; ‘partnering’ of those with similar qualifications and skilled migrant intakes,” said Mr Camm.

Copies of Intergenerational mobility: new evidence from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth, by Gerry Redmond, Melissa Wong, Bruce Bradbury and Ilan Katz, are available from

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