IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Risk-averse young people are no less likely to plan to go to university, but impatient people are

17 December 2021

Research published today by IOE’s Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities finds that, as well as the socio-economic status in which a young person grows up, their level of patience is strongly associated with educational expectations.

University student

The study, led by Silvan Häs (doctoral student at the Social Research Institute) looked at the association between socio-economic status (SES) during adolescence, economic preferences and teenagers’ expectations of going to university.

The researchers analysed data on British teenagers from the Millennium Cohort Study and replicated previous findings that higher SES is associated with higher educational expectations. However, they went beyond this to explore the role of individuals' economic preferences (risk and time preferences) and their interplay with the role of socioeconomic status. These economic preferences were elicited using participants' responses to hypothetical games posed in the questionnaire, rather than simply asked about directly.

The results suggest that while SES and individuals' time preference (i.e. their patience) are associated with expecting to go to university, individuals who are more risk averse are no less likely to expect to go to university. The study results imply that interventions aiming to improving patience in young people could be an important channel in helping to improve inequality in university attendance.

“Risk averse teenagers are just as likely to expect to go to university as their peers. This may come as a surprise to some given the price tag of almost £30,000 for an undergraduate degree in student fees alone. But the fact that England’s student loan system is income-contingent – people only have to make repayments when earning more than £26,575 per year – may be to thank. It appears teenagers do not perceive student debt as risky – which is accurate given such safeguards,” Silvan Häs said.

This paper is part of CEPEO’s working paper series. CEPEO’s working papers are multidisciplinary, reflecting CEPEO's broad research themes, and are published to stimulate discussion and contribute to the advancement of our knowledge of education policy and equal opportunities.