Entry to elite positions and the stratification of higher education in Britain

Paul Wakeling, Mike Savage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We use the Great British Class Survey to examine the association between social background, university attended and social position for over 85,000 graduates. This unique dataset allows us to look beyond the very early labour market experiences of graduates investigated in previous studies and to examine the outcome of attending particular institutions. We find strong evidence of distinct stratification of outcomes by university attended, even within the prestigious Russell Group. There are marked differences in entry to elite positions for graduates of different universities, with sharp gradients in levels of economic capital in particular. The ‘golden triangle’ of Oxford, Cambridge and certain London institutions emerges as a distinct elite. However even within that grouping there are striking differences, with Oxford ahead of Cambridge on several measures. These findings underline the importance of a geographically-concentrated set of elite universities in channelling access to top positions in British society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-320
Number of pages31
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015


  • elites
  • elite education
  • higher education
  • institutional stratification
  • social class

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