How much does degree choice matter?

Matt Dickson, Jack Britton, Laura Van der Erve, Chris Belfield, Anna Vignoles, Yu Zhu, Ian Walker, Lorraine Dearden, Luke Sibieta, Franz Buscha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (SciVal)


We use a large and novel administrative dataset to investigate returns to different university ‘degrees’ (subject-institution combinations) in the United Kingdom. Conditioning on a rich set of background characteristics, we find substantial variation in returns across degrees with similar selectivity levels, suggesting students’ degree choices matter a lot for later-life earnings. Returns increase with university selectivity much more at the top of the selectivity distribution than further down, and much more for some subjects than others. Returns are poorly correlated with observable degree characteristics other than selectivity, which could have important implications for student choices and the incentives of universities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102268
JournalLabour Economics
Early online date1 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
☆ The authors are grateful for the Department for Education for data access and a huge amount of help and support in developing this paper. We thank Elaine Drayton and Ben Waltmann for research support and Richard Blundell, Pedro Carneiro, Damon Clark and Eric French for detailed comments, as well as seminar participants at the IZA Economics of Education Workshop, Royal Holloway, Institute of Education, UC Irvine and Lancaster University. We also thank the Economic and Social Research Council for funding through grant ES/S010718/1 and the Centre for Microeconomic Analysis of Public Policy at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (RES-544-28-50001) and NORFACE for funding through grant HuCIAW 462-16-090. All errors are our own.


  • Degree choice
  • Returns to education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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