ABC’s to Paychecks – what the data tells us about study and prospects for Gen Z


In the third blog based on Thread & Fable’s Engaging Youth 2019 research, we take a look at what the data is telling us when it comes to study and work prospects for UK youth.

Girls out-perform boys – but at what cost?

Whilst socio-economic disparities play a significant part of the story when it comes to education, it’s gender that is the biggest recurring theme when it comes to how Generation Z and Alpha are finding school. Boys and girls are found to equally enjoy school at around age 11 but as they mature from here the gap widens, with boys coming off the less successful when it comes to performance.

Girls continue to dominate performance reports at all ages, although report higher levels of school-related stress and pressure too, prioritising school work over other activities such as being active and some gender bias can also be seen around parental expectations.

The introduction of more rigorous GCSE exams in the UK in 2019 saw 1 in 4 girls receive top grades of A or 7 and above (25.3%) compared to 18.6% of boys. And some shifts are being noticed in the type of subjects’ girls are excelling in, with physics, a subject traditionally dominated by boys, seeing girls close the gap at the top with 42.1% getting grades C, or 4, and above (up 2% from 2018) compared to 46.1% of boys. Indeed, more girls than boys entered science subjects for the first time in 2019.

When it comes to HE….

Whilst girls are a third more likely than boys to actually apply to go to university, the socio-economic inequalities are perhaps even more stark when we look at progression to higher education, despite continued efforts to widen participation.

It’s perhaps one of the most competitive periods in HE in recent years; a demographic dip of 18 year olds, more courses, fewer barriers to entry and increased competitive recruitment – not least without its challenges such as ‘unconditional offers’, yet the standard full-time, three-year course is still the main offering. In fact, since 2016 saw the tuition fee reform, the number of part time students dropped by over 80%. You have to question if the product is offering young people, particularly those who may need to work and/or continue to live locally, helping progression.

Work, but as we know it?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there continue to be rises in university course application which are closely linked to careers at the end – posing the uncomfortable question as to whether the rise in fees and dare we say it commoditisation of education as a product is eroding the ‘education for learnings’ sake’ with course choices that allow young people to further their passions and interests.

Technology is the biggest influencer on the modern working world as young people leave school or graduate, not just for its impact on the way they’ll work, but also the type of jobs that are available.

The automation of many areas of work continues rapidly, forcing a much predicted greater cultural and social divide – with the highly specialised at one end, with the less meaningful at the other.

Whilst there are still large proportions of Gen Z who work in order to live, for many young people, who have experienced a higher standard of living, are seeking ‘enjoyment’, experiences and further growth from their job, along with more work/life balance. This also contributes to how employers are attracting and retaining talent, with the rise of flexible working patterns, on-site health facilities and add-ons to earnings.

The gender pay gap in the UK is still a significant issue, particularly over all types of employees, with women filling more part-time roles than men. For Gen Z progressing into the workforce there are some positive signs, with 2019 seeing the gap for those under 40 close to zero (in full time roles). But it’s the life decisions of starting a family and having flexibility or time out from the work force that will impact the pay gap most – which for this generation, along with many Millennials, is a significant pressure.

What does this tell us?

That more than ever, the inequalities experienced at school age will continue to play out into the workforce, be that on a gender or socio-economic basis. So, tackling issues such as boys attainment at a younger age, progression to higher education from those from lower socio-economic groups and minority groups will level the graduate workforce.

But let’s be clear, offering more of the same; same courses, same incentives, same job structures, same learning experiences – isn’t going to create the shift that the data’s pointing to. It feels the gap is only widening, so what can the UK do to ensure key segments of society aren’t left behind?

For more, and a heap of stats on these areas, check out Engaging Youth 2019. You can also read about the impact of family, friends and relationships on UK youth as well as the state of their physical and emotional health.