A degree can mean earning three times more than the next woman

Education boosts your earnings. The bad news is that it might not help you get a job. Diane Coyle, Economics Editor, reports that dole queues have become steadily better-educated.
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Pay rises steadily in line with educational attainment, and the earnings premium for gaining qualifications has increased, according to a new report.

Women benefit even more than men in the extent to which staying on in education improves their earnings, although men on average are still paid a quarter to a third more than women, whatever they have between their ears.

But one catch is that educational qualifications have become a less sure passport to a job as the skill level of the population has risen. The unemployment rate for the unqualified has changed little, while graduates' risk of unemployment is still far lower but has risen over the years.

A second drawback is the growing need for students to work to support themselves on the way to their qualification. One in four full-time 16 to 19-year-old students and one in five among the 20 to 24-year-olds holds a part-time job.

"Pay is increasing in real terms for workers with a higher level of education, whilst barely holding up, if not decreasing, for people with low or no qualifications," according to the Employment Policy Institute's autumn Employment Audit. A woman with a degree earned pounds 349.42 a week on average in 1996, nearly three times more than the pounds 118.32 average for women with no qualifications. The gap had grown slightly since 1993, when the respective pay levels were pounds 343.94 and pounds 117.59 a week in 1996 pounds.

Men enjoyed a smaller return to their educational qualifications but at all levels of attainment earned more than women.

Last year the average man with a degree made a weekly pounds 530.23, just over twice as much as the pounds 242.67 earned by his unqualified counterpart.

Female pay rates have stuck at 75 to 80 per cent of the equivalent male pay level. A woman with a degree typically makes about the same in a week as a man with A-levels or an advanced vocational qualification.

But a separate article in the same report, written by Peter Robinson of the London School of Economics, shows that while 59 per cent of the unemployed in 1979 had no qualifications, this had dropped to 29 per cent by 1996.

Unemployment rates for the unskilled have risen far less over the years than unemployment amongst the best qualified, although the former are still about six times more likely to be out of a job.

Mr Robinson writes: "Significantly fewer of the unemployed were unqualified in 1996 when compared with 1979, reflecting the large increase in the holding of qualifications."