Pupils know little about opportunities on the employment market

Pupils know little about opportunities on the employment market

High school pupils know little about their chances on the employment market when choosing a subsequent course of study. They also scarcely know how much they can earn once they have completed a certain course of study. So concludes NWO-funded researcher Jacopo Mazza, who will defend his PhD thesis on 23 March 2012 at the University of Amsterdam.

Economist Jacopo Mazza asked 1697 high school pupils across the range of academic abilities in their final year what they thought they could earn once they had a certain diploma. The amount stated varied considerably. ‘The majority of pupils do not have a clue as to what a realistic expected income is for a specific type of study,’ concludes the researcher. About half of the pupils estimated a starting income of between 1000 and 2000 euros per month; one quarter were below this range and one quarter above it. For example, about 5% of the pupils (73 people) expected a monthly salary of 500 euros after they had completed their studies, as opposed to 81 pupils who expected a starting monthly salary of 3000 euros.

The researcher could scarcely detect any patterns in the answers. For example, children from high-earning parents do not estimate their future income higher than children of parents with an average income. The amount estimated was also not related to parental ethnicity. However the expected income of girls was several hundreds of euros less per month than that of boys. Pupils in the last year of pre-university education, for example, were asked what they expected their starting income to be upon graduating from university. For boys the median – the middlemost number when all of the stated expected incomes are ordered from smallest to largest – was 2000 euros whereas for girls it was 1650 euros. Similarly large differences were also observed for pupils of average and lower ability in their final year of high school. The median expected income after the completion of a further or higher education course of study was 300 to 600 euros higher for boys than for girls.

Another aspect Mazza investigated was whether or not pupils realise the consequences of dropping out of a subsequent course of study for their future income. Most pupils realise that they would earn less without a diploma but they did not know how great this difference could be. According to Mazza his research shows that high school pupils are pretty naive about the employment market. He thinks that schools should inform their pupils better. ‘When teenagers choose a subsequent course of study it is important that they know their chances of obtaining a job and roughly how high their income will be. They must make a well-informed choice.’ However on the basis of American data Mazza established that opting for a study in the natural or social sciences provides better protection against macroeconomic shocks such as a financial crisis than other types of study, for example, in the humanities, health or education.

Of course Mazza recognises that everything can change on the employment market during the course of a study. Whoever started training as a pilot six years ago was almost guaranteed a job. Now the flying market has collapsed so hard that qualified pilots are sitting at home. Other such examples can also be given including some from before the economic crisis. Yet according to Mazza that is not a reason for leaving pupils uninformed. ‘Of course we should always be clear about the fact that the situation on the employment market can change. However, in general, reasonably good predictions can be made about the opportunities that gaining a certain diploma will give.’

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