Private school students become higher earners, live in wealthier suburbs and are happier than their public school peers, new research has revealed.
The national study – carried out by Curtin University’s National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education – analysed more than 17,000 Australian adults.
The research found that male graduates from independent private schools earn 15% more than those from public schools, and that female graduates earn 19% more compared to those from public schools.
The study also compared wage outcomes for two cohorts: those born before 1970 and those born after.
Dr Michael Dockery, principal research fellow at the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre (BCEC), told The Educator that the results were surprisingly similar for both cohorts.
“There is a large gap in earnings. Attending an independent private school is associated with around a 15% premium in higher hourly earnings, and a Catholic private school around 10% relative to those who went to a public school,” he said.
“For people from Independent Schools, most of this premium is due to the fact that they attain higher educational qualifications – notably more likely to complete a university degree.”
Dockery said the rest was attributable to coming from a higher socio-economic status background, as measured by parental occupation.
However, he added that for people who graduated from a Catholic high school, there remains a small wage premium of 3% that cannot be attributed to either of these effects.
“Possibly that reflects networks or ‘social capital’ within the Catholic community that provides greater opportunity in the labour market,” he said.
“Note that it cannot be concluded that these are ‘causal’ school effects – they may reflect ability or other unobservable factors associated with attendance at a non-government schools and that have not been accounted for in the study.”
Dockery pointed out that the tendency for graduates from private schools to live in neighbourhoods of higher socio-economic status is very strong, even after accounting for educational attainment and family background.
“This is most likely to reflect a strong preference to live near family and friends, or in suburbs of comparable status,” he said.
“Higher life satisfaction among graduates from Catholic schools may be due to their religiosity: the existing ‘happiness literature’ has demonstrated that people with stronger religious faith or sense of spirituality tend to be happier.”
Dockery said the biggest surprise to come out of the study was the sheer magnitude of the wage gap – particularly for females, given there is “an extensive literature” that suggests school effects are quite minor in terms of their impacts on academic performance.
“Wages of women who went to Independent schools are around 17% higher than women who went to a government school. Plus those women are substantially more likely to be in employment in the first place,” he said.
He said that the fact that the wage differences seem quite stable over time was also surprising, since in the past students who attended a non-government school were much more likely to complete Year 12 or the equivalent.
“Now that a much higher proportion of all students finish Year 12, that ‘advantage’ of private schools is less pronounced, and one would have expected effects on labour market outcomes to similarly have diminished,” he said.