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What do social science graduates do?

November 2023

Jenny Sloan, careers consultant for graduate transitions at The University of Manchester, takes a look at Graduate Outcomes data for those who studied the social sciences

Social science graduates have the transferable skills needed to tackle society's most pressing issues from the inside, with the highest percentage of graduates entering government.

In the latest Graduate Outcomes survey, 15.9% of all responses came from social science graduates (32,750 in total). Almost threequarters of social science respondents identified as female (73.3%).

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What do graduates do? 2023/24

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Employment outcomes

Just over half of social science respondents were in full-time employment (53.6%), which is an increase of 3.5 percentage points from the previous year (50.1%). Nevertheless, this is still below the all-subject average of 59.6%.

Social science graduates were slightly more likely to be unemployed on average, with a combined average of 5.5% compared to a 5% all-subject average. Geography and education were exceptions, with average unemployment rates of 4.6% and 4.4% respectively. It should be noted, however, that unemployment figures include graduates due to start work.

A richer picture

Employment outcomes become more nuanced when we compare individual disciplines within social sciences. Out of all social science graduates, geography respondents were most likely to be in full-time employment (58.2%) and least likely to be working part-time (6.9%). On the flip side, psychology graduates were least likely to be in fulltime work (48.7%) but most likely to be employed part-time (11.9%).

This is contextualised by considering that psychology graduates are also most likely to be working and studying simultaneously (15.3%) compared to an average of 13.3% for all social science graduates in this situation, and a 10.5% all-subject average. Indeed, social science graduates were more likely in general to be engaged in further study, with one in ten in further study (9.9%), compared to an all-subject average of 7.8%. This is to be expected when we remember that many occupations popular with social science graduates, such as law, social work, education, and psychology, can often require additional qualifications.

Regardless of industry or sector, social science graduates recognise the contributions they can make to the economy and everyday lives of society.

Further study: on closer inspection

Social science graduates were more likely on average to engage in Masters study than other subjects. 68.9% of politics graduates, 65.8% of geography graduates, and 60.1% of psychology graduates went onto Masters study compared with an all-subject average of 47.2%.

Education graduates were the only exception, with only 26.1% doing a Masters. However, as is to be expected, this group were much more likely to study for a postgraduate diploma or certificate (45.1% compared with the all-subject average of 13.6%).

The transferability of skills

Social science graduates possess transferable skills vital to the prosperity of the UK, and many private sector businesses value social science knowledge and skills.1,2 This is reflected in the sector preferences of social science graduates. 17.5% of geography graduates worked in construction, engineering and research and development. A further 17% worked in business and finance. Two-fifths of law graduates worked in the legal and accountancy sector (41.4%). Politics graduates were more likely to enter management consultancy on average than other subjects (5.6%) with a further 16.1% working in business and finance.

The top professions for social science graduates, however, were more traditionally linked to the public sector, with legal professionals, primary education teaching professionals, and welfare and housing associate professionals coming in first, second and third place respectively.

The Academy for Social Sciences have declared that social science can 'level up' the UK, with its president Will Hutton stating, 'social science is rich in knowledge about how economy and society works best'.3 Therefore, it makes sense that social science graduates are well-suited to working in government.

Social science graduates were much more likely to secure roles in local and central government, with a combined average of 11.7% compared to an all-subject average of 6.5%. Out of all the What do graduates do? subjects, the top three disciplines most likely to work in government were from social sciences. Almost one-fifth of sociology graduates (19.3%), nearly one-fifth of politics graduates (18.5%), and more than one-in-ten law graduates (12.2%) worked in local or central government.

Beyond government, social science graduates contribute to broader public services. Almost one-fifth of psychology graduates worked in education (19.6%), followed closely by healthcare (18.4%) and social care (14.2%). More than one-in-ten sociology graduates worked in education (12.5%). 66.8% of education graduates worked in education, with the second most popular industry being local and central government (6.6%).

Regardless of industry or sector, social science graduates recognise the contributions they can make to the economy and everyday lives of society. A total of 61.3% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their current activity enables them to use the skills they gained during their social science degrees.


  1. British Academy spotlights 12 humanities and social sciences graduates revealing how their skills are vital to UK prosperity, The British Academy, 2022.
  2. Vital Business: The Essential Role of the Social Sciences in the UK Private Sector, Academy of Social Sciences, 2020.
  3. Social Science has the power to 'level up' the UK, according to new Academy of Social Sciences report, Academy of Social Sciences, 2021.

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