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Trans and non-binary graduates earn 'significantly less' than peers

June 2024

More targeted careers support is needed for trans and non-binary graduates as HEPI research shows this group earn £2,000 on average less than their peers, writes Josh Freeman, policy manager at the higher education think tank

This was one of many findings in the recent HEPI report Trans and non-binary student experiences in UK higher education. The report explores the experiences of students who identify as trans, non-binary or with another gender identity other than man or woman. We refer to this group of students as trans or non-binary, though not all the students referred to use one or both of these terms.

There is very little research on this group of students and almost no data on their graduate outcomes. This was a gap we wanted to fill. In the report, we do so using previously unpublished data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) for the 2020/21 academic year. We also use unreported survey data from the HEPI/Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey.1

Many of the findings are challenging and suggest this group of students needs more support than they currently receive. Other findings were more positive, showing that many trans and non-binary students have great experiences in higher education. But one area of particular challenge, and which we previously knew little about, was trans and non-binary students’ experiences after graduating.

The HESA data shows there are small but significant grade disparities between trans and non-binary students and their peers. About 75% of trans and non-binary students receive a 'good' degree, a first or an upper second, compared with 80% of students who are not trans or non-binary.

Grade classification,Trans or non-binary,Not trans or non-binary
Upper second,41,44
Lower second,16,13

In the year our data covers, 2020/21, trans or non-binary students across all years were much less likely to graduate than their peers, with only 26% of students doing so compared with 32% of students who are not trans or non-binary. This may be because trans and non-binary students are more likely to withdraw from their course. Around half of trans and non-binary students have considered withdrawing compared with around a quarter of their peers.

Gender,Percentage of stuents
Not trans,27

Why do so many trans and non-binary students consider withdrawing from their studies? By far the largest contributor is mental health, with 59% of non-binary students and 28% of trans students citing this as the main reason. But a number of other factors, such as physical health, insufficient interaction with teaching staff and the wider student experience, are also cited as challenges for students.

'Striking' employment gap after graduation

One striking finding is that trans and non-binary students are much less likely to enter paid work after they graduate. Only 58% do so, compared with 70% of their peers. And once they enter paid work, they earn significantly less. Trans and non-binary graduates will earn on average £2,000 less than their peers, rising to nearly £4,000 for former postgraduate students.

Mean salary
Level of qualificationNot trans or non-binaryTrans or non-binaryTrans and non-binary penalty
First degree£27,959.05£27,027.14£931.92
Other undergraduate£28,445.67£26,422.41£2,023.26

Part of this difference may be because trans and non-binary students study different degrees from their peers. Trans students study Social Studies at a higher rate, and both trans and non-binary students are less likely to study Business or Law.

But this is only part of the explanation. Fifteen months after graduation, trans and non-binary graduates were much less likely to be in managerial or professional occupations. Instead, they were more likely to be in associate professional, administrative, service and elementary occupations.

Occupations,Trans or non-binary,Not trans or non-binary
Managers directors and senior officials,4,5
Professional occupations,44,53
Associate professional occupations,25,22
Administrative and secretarial occupations,7,5
Skilled trades occupations,2,1
Caring leisure and other service occupations,6,5
Sales and customer service occupations,6,4
Process plant and machine operatives,1,1
Elementary occupations,6,6

Perhaps partly as a result, the wellbeing of trans and non-binary graduates is lower than their peers. In surveys asking them to rank their wellbeing out of 10 in response to prompts, the mean life satisfaction of trans and non-binary graduates is 7, compared to 7.4 for their peers who are not trans or non-binary.

Wellbeing questions,Trans or non-binary,Not trans or non-binary
Overall how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?,7.0,7.4
Overall to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile? ,7.1,7.5
Overall how happy did you feel yesterday?,6.7,7.2
Overall how anxious did you feel yesterday?,5.0,4.2

There could be a few reasons for all these challenges. Many workplaces will never have had to accommodate a trans or non-binary person before, and employers may need to do more work to become supportive environments. Wider societal attitudes can also be hostile: many people think trans people should not be allowed to become police officers or primary school teachers.2 And trans and non-binary students are often less prepared themselves, with fewer trans and non-binary applicants to higher education saying they already have work experience or they are ready for the workplace.

It is clear more work is needed. In the paper, we argue for more explicit careers support for this group of students to enter workplaces that may not fully understand how best to support them. Facilitating mentors or alumni networks would be a good place to start. It is also important to give trans and non-binary students as much knowledge and experience as possible, so they have the best chance to succeed after graduating.


  1. Students' improving academic experience overshadowed by cost-of-living crisis: HEPI / Advance HE 2023 Student Academic Experience Survey, HEPI, 2023.
  2. British Social Attitudes, National Centre for Social Research.

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