Labour market inequality among higher professional education graduates

HBO Monitor: women increasingly disadvantaged

Maastricht University's Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) published a new report today based on the HBO Monitor, an annual alumni survey. What makes this survey so unique is that it makes graduate comparisons one year, four years and eight years after graduation. In other words, it compares data from the same graduates over a longer period. The good news is that social background no longer plays a role on the labour market after obtaining a higher professional education degree. The bad news is that the position of female graduates worsens a year after graduating.

Social background no longer plays a role

Social background (i.e. the parents' education level) does not appear to play a significant role in the labour market outcomes of higher professional education graduates. However, this does not mean that social background is of no relevance to the Dutch labour market; after all, students with highly educated parents progress more easily from secondary education to higher education. Once people from lower educational backgrounds have obtained a higher professional education degree, they are no longer at a disadvantage on the labour market. 

Male-female differences

There are considerable short-term and long-term differences in male and female career development. While women manage to bridge some of the gap with respect to job satisfaction and permanent contracts within the first four to eight years after graduation, their disadvantage compared to men only increases with respect to hourly wage and career opportunities. The growing pay gap – from a 5% hourly wage disadvantage shortly after graduating to a 12% difference four to eight years later – is particularly concerning. If we also factor in the large and growing difference in working hours between men and women, it becomes clear that female higher professional education graduates earn considerably less than their male counterparts. An important reason for this disadvantaged market position can be attributed to women working part time. Fewer hours worked generally translates into a lower monthly salary, which means the part-time status of female graduates comes at a hefty price.

Non-Western backgrounds

The disadvantaged position of graduates with a non-Western migration background is evidenced by a much lower employability rate. In terms of objective job characteristics, such as job security, job matching and remuneration, non-Western graduates are about as successful as their Dutch counterparts, albeit with slightly lower job satisfaction rates. Over time, non-Western graduates tend to catch up to some extent, but the differences in job satisfaction and job opportunities are significant four to eight years after graduation. Choice of sectors plays an important role in graduates with a non-Western background. Graduates with a non-Western migration background tend to choose social studies and economics programmes over education, health care and technical programmes, for which the demand is higher.


While we are certainly making progress, there are still plenty of steps to take in achieving equal labour market outcomes for men and women and for graduates with and without a migration background. Gender may also play a role in the labour market differences between men and women, but this gender inequality could also be attributed to employer discrimination. Further research is needed to reach a definitive conclusion. With respect to the labour market disparities among higher education graduates with and without a migration background, important steps can be taken by school counsellors and academic advisers to inform pupils – particularly those with a migration background – of the current career prospects associated with different academic disciplines.

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