Economics applicants in the UK labour market

Nick Drydakis (Lord Ashcroft International Business School, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK and Institute for the Study of Labor IZA, Bonn, Germany)

International Journal of Manpower

ISSN: 0143-7720

Publication date: 1 June 2015



The purpose of this paper is to estimate whether job applicants who have obtained a BSc in economics from 15 UK universities face different labour market prospects. The author examines whether university entry standards and Russell Group membership affect UK economics applicants’ occupational access and entry-level annual salaries when unobserved heterogeneities, such as ability, motivation, family characteristics and networks, are minimized.


The author evaluate the research question by recording the job search processes of 90 British economics applicants from randomly selected universities. The key elements of the approach are as follows: third-year undergraduate students apply for early career jobs that are relevant to their studies. Applications are closely matched in terms of age, ethnicity, experience and other core characteristics. Differential treatment in the access to vacancies and entry-level annual salaries per university applicant are systematically measured.


By observing as much information as a firm does, the estimations suggest that both entry standards and Russell Group membership positively affect applicants’ labour market prospects. Although the firms cannot evaluate by themselves whether graduates from highly reputable universities are more or less capable and motivated than graduates from less reputable universities, it appears that the university attended affects firms’ recruitment policies. Importantly, valuable variables that capture firms’ and jobs’ heterogeneities, such as occupational variation, regions, workplace size, establishment age, and the existence of trade unions and human resources, are also considered and provide new results.

Practical implications

Understanding the impact of entry standards and university reputation on students’ labour market outcomes is critical to understanding the role of human capital and screening strategies. In addition, obtaining accurate estimates of the payoff of attending a university with a high entry threshold and reputation is of great importance not only to the parents of prospective students who foot tuition bills but also to the students themselves. Furthermore, universities will be interested in the patterns estimated by this study, which will allow recent UK economists to evaluate the current employment environment. In addition, universities should be keen to know how their own graduates have fared in the labour market compared with graduates of other universities.


In the current study, the author attempt to solve the problem of firms’ seeing more information than econometricians by looking at an outcome that is determined before firms see any unobservable characteristics. In the current study, ability, motivation, family characteristics and networks cannot affect applicants’ access to vacancies and entry-level salaries. The current study can estimate the effect of university enrolment on applicants’ occupational access and entry-level salaries, controlling for unobserved characteristics that would themselves affect subsequent outcomes in the labour market.



Drydakis, N. (2015), "Economics applicants in the UK labour market", International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 36 No. 3, pp. 296-333.

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