This paper was written in 2010 to encourage policy-makers to think about how to measure socioeconomic status (SES). The findings show that measurement of SES is a complex issue, and that the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) measures perform quite well in measuring the aggregate relationship between socioeconomic status and education participation. People who are currently not in any education (typically of higher socioeconomic status) are more likely, in an expanded higher education section, to participate in university than those students studying vocational education and training.
About the research
This paper was written in early 2010 to encourage policy-makers to think about how to measure socioeconomic status (SES). It also provides some data on socioeconomic status and tertiary education participation. Finally, it speculates about the likely impact of an expansion in higher education on those from a low socioeconomic background.
- Measurement of socioeconomic status is a complex issue. While the concept relates to the characteristics of individuals and their families, for practical reasons, measures based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (ABS SEIFA) are usually adopted.
- SEIFA measures are very poor in classifying individuals by socioeconomic status. Nevertheless, the SEIFA measures perform quite well in measuring the aggregate relationship between socioeconomic status and educational participation.
- An implication of SEIFA's poor classificatory ability is that any policy that targets funding on the basis of SEIFA will result in the funds being badly misdirected.
- Some simple tabular analyses indicate that vocational education and training (VET) does a good job for low-socioeconomic status individuals, and is not overly biased toward lower-level qualifications for this group.
- The group most likely to be affected by an expansion in the higher education sector will be those not currently undertaking post-school study rather than those currently undertaking VET.
The paper also notes that SEIFA would be a very poor measure to implement any expansion in higher education aimed at low-socioeconomic status individuals.
Managing Director, NCVER