Relative influence of different markers of socioeconomic status on university participation

‘Relative influence of different markers of socioeconomic status on university participation’ is Chapter 7 in the Australia’s welfare 2023: data insights.

This page provides a high-level overview of the key messages presented in Chapter 7.

Download the full article: Chapter 7 [PDF 335 kB]

Download the full report: Australia’s welfare 2023: data insights [PDF 11.1 MB].

There is extensive empirical evidence demonstrating that, compared with their more socioeconomically advantaged peers, people from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds have lower chances of enrolling in university.   However, a number of important research gaps remain. 

This chapter explores the relative influence of different markers of socio-economic status on university participation by:

  • presenting new empirical evidence, leveraging robust and large-scale Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) data
  • evaluating the relative influences of individual and area-based measures of SES.

What is in this chapter?

Data and methods

The analysis presented in this chapter was undertaken using an MADIP data extract comprised of 2016 Census records linked to, among others, higher education data on university enrolments exported from the Higher Education Information Management System.

These data enabled the tracking of university enrolments between 2016 and 2019 of the entire cohort of Australian citizens and permanent residents who were 16 or 17 and lived with at least one parent at the time of the 2016 Census. The analytic data set comprises 446,322 individuals, which offers markedly higher robustness to the analyses, compared with the data used in previous studies. 

The key independent variables used in the analysis capture 4 aspects of socioeconomic status:

  • family income
  • parental education
  • parental occupation
  • socioeconomic status of the area of residence.

Details of the logistic regression models underpinning the analysis are presented in the chapter.


Some of the key findings from this chapter’s analysis include:

  • All SES measures included in the analysis (both individual-level and area-based measures) were found to be significantly associated with the probability of enrolling in a bachelor course at university.
  • In all cases, being a member of a more advantaged SES group is associated with a higher probability of enrolling in a bachelor course at university. The strength of the relationships varies depending on the measure of socio-economic status, with parental education being associated with the largest change in the chances of entering university.  
  • When other measures of SES are controlled for, the strength of the relationship between family income and the likelihood of enrolling in university falls noteably. On the other hand, the effect of parental education change much less when other aspects of SES are controlled for. Low levels of parental education appear to have a particularly detrimental impact on the likelihood of university enrolment.
  • Area based measure of SES – while less important once other SES measures were controlled for – were still found to be associated with the likelihood of enrolling at university. In other words, young people who live in low-SES areas are less likely than others to attend university even when family characteristics are taken into account.

Where do I go for more information?