For What do graduates do?, Jenny Sloan examines the employment outcomes and salaries of social science graduates, as well as how many went on to further study
A social science degree enables students to develop a diverse, valuable, and transferable skillset. These skills can grant them access to a range of professional occupations. Many of the world's most pressing issues, from climate change to cyber-security, can only be confronted with interdisciplinary action, and social science graduates are well-equipped with the skills needed to work with their STEM counterparts to solve these problems.1
In fact, not only can they contribute to change, but they can also lead it, with 44% of global leaders holding a social science degree in 2015.2 It therefore makes sense that these degrees are attractive to employers across the public, private, and third sectors.3,4
A total of 29,710 social science graduates completed HESA's latest Graduate Outcomes survey, comprising 15.2% of all responses. Almost three quarters of social science respondents identified as female (73.2%).
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What do graduates do? 2023
Employment vs unemployment
Over half of social science graduates (50.1%) were in full-time employment. This is below the average for all subjects (57.3%). Education and geography graduates were most likely to be in full-time employment (54.9%), and psychology the least (46.6%).
Of social science graduates in employment, 64.2% were employed on a permanent or open-ended contract. A further 16.4% had a fixed-term contract lasting 12 months or longer.
Social science graduates were less likely to be in part-time employment than their peers (11% compared to 11.4% for all subjects).
They were more likely to be unemployed (6.8% compared to 5.9% for all subjects) and only geography had below-average unemployment figures (5.7%). These figures included those who were unemployed and due to start work or further study.
No matter their destination, most respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their current activity allowed them to use the skills they gained from their social science degree.
A nuanced picture
Although social science graduates were less likely to be in full- or part-time employment, this doesn't necessarily equate to negative outcomes.
Many professions popular with social science graduates, including social work, psychology, education, and law, often require extra qualifications. Therefore, it is unsurprising that social science graduates were more likely to be engaged in further study than other subjects (11.7% compared to 10.6%) or to be working and studying simultaneously (13.8% compared to 9.2% for all subjects).
The majority of social science graduates in further study (61.3%) were enrolled in a postgraduate taught degree (e.g. MA, MSc, MBA). A further 17.4% were working towards a postgraduate diploma or certificate. One in ten (10.5%) were studying for a professional qualification.
The average salaries of social science graduates were lower than their peers. Those without further study all earned a below-average salary (£24,974). Law was the only subject where those with significant further study earned more (£25,061) than the average for all subjects (£24,889).
These figures show that within social sciences, those who undertook significant further study earned more than those who did not. The most pronounced salary increase was seen among education graduates, who earned £4,038 more on average following significant further study.
The only exception to this was politics graduates, who earned a nominal £49 less on average with significant further study. However, out of all social science subjects, politics reported the highest total salaries (£24,748 without significant study, £24,699 with significant study).
No matter their destination, most respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their current activity allowed them to use the skills they gained from their social science degree (60.9%).
- Qualified for the future: Quantifying demand for arts, humanities and social science skills, The British Academy, 2020.
- What do the world’s most successful people study?, British Council, 2015.
- The right skills: Celebrating skills in the arts, humanities and social sciences, The British Academy, 2017.
- Vital business: The essential role of the social sciences in the UK private sector, Academy of Social Sciences, 2020.
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