A-level in maths is key to high pay

Judith Judd
Saturday 20 February 1999 00:02 GMT

MATHS A-LEVEL makes you richer, according to a study published today.

Both graduates and non-graduates who took maths A-level ended up earning on average 10 per cent more than those of similar ability and background who did not.

A mix of arts and science subjects did not lead to better earnings and job prospects, according to researchers from the Centre for Economic Performance, based at the London School of Economics.

It says pupils should take advantage of plans to broaden A-levels by carrying on with maths. From September next year pupils will be able to take five subjects in their first year in the sixth form, leading to a new AS exam. They will then decide whether to specialise in three subjects, as most do now.

Anna Vignoles, who carried out the study of 6,000 graduates and non-graduates, said: "Students and their parents may be unaware of the wage premium associated with maths, or they may feel that the transition between GCSE and A-level maths is too great."

Her research followed the careers of 2,000 people born in 1958 and 4,000 graduates when they were six years into their careers. It compared the earnings of those of similar ability and backgrounds who had taken maths A-level with those who had not.

Even for those in the same occupation, for example middle managers, maths led to higher earnings. An economics graduate with maths A-level earned up to 11 per cent more than one without. Only 9 per cent of A-level entries were in maths, compared with 30 per cent in social sciences and 17 per cent in arts, suggesting that the wage premium was related to skills shortages.

The study also measured whether pupils who took a broader range of subjects between 16 and 19 went on to earn more if other factors affecting salary, such as a degree, were taken into account. About 40 per cent of A-level entrants take a mixture of arts and science subjects.

Ms Vignoles said in her paper: "The evidence clearly shows that firms are not currently interested in hiring and paying more for individuals who have a broader educational background.

"Interestingly, we also found that pupils who study a more specialised A-level curriculum are more likely to get a degree, either because they are more likely to apply and get accepted or because they are more likely to succeed when they get there."

She suggested that the reform of A-level and broadening the sixth-form curriculum may be unsuccessful unless three-year university degree courses also change.

Ms Vignoles said she did not think it was practical to make maths A- level compulsory, but she hoped more students would take new free-standing A-level maths units being piloted by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

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