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CEP Discussion Paper
The Myth of Parity of Esteem: Earnings and Qualifications
Peter Robinson
July 1997
Paper No' CEPDP0354:
Full Paper (pdf)

There is no parity of esteem between academic and vocational qualifications in the labour market. Data from the Labour Force Survey show that on average men and women working full-time with academic qualifications at one level in the national qualifications framework earn about the same as men and women with vocational qualifications set notionally one level higher. So those with A levels have earnings similar to those with higher or level 4 vocational qualifications, those with 5 or more O levels or higher grade GCSEs have earnings similar to those with level 3 vocational qualifications, and those with 1-4 O levels or higher grade GCSEs have earnings similar to those with level 2 vocational qualifications. These higher earnings occur firstly because academic qualifications at a given level are more successful in buying access to more highly paid occupations. Secondly, within the most highly paid managerial, professional and technical occupations, academic qualifications are associated with higher earnings. These findings raise significant issues for public policy, calling into question the way in which the UK's National Targets for Education and Training have been formulated and much work on international comparisons of educational attainment.