Student households and work

Covid-19 made quite an impact on the number of student households in the UK - and has had an impact on student working patterns.

David Kernohan is an Associate Editor of Wonkhe

We’re looking here at data extracted from the Labour Force Survey, which currently surveys around 33,000 households per quarter (as you’ll see in the graph below, historically the pattern was different).

We get a multitude of data tables from the survey – and the latest crop came out today. There’s nothing released directly about student households, but Table F looks at economic activity of the whole household by age group, whereas Table F2 looks at economic activity of the whole household by age group excluding student households (which are defined as households containing only people in full-time education that are aged between 16-24). So you can probably guess what I did.

Here’s a plot of the economic activity of student households – the data is annual from 1996 to 2003, biannual from 2004 to 2013, and quarterly from 2014 onwards. Data is not seasonally adjusted, which is great for us because we can see the pattern of the academic year.

[Full screen]

There are vagaries, but student households tend to emerge in the autumn, there’s more of them at the start of the calendar year (I guess January starts), a decline in the spring, and then a lull in the summer – where students may either live elsewhere or not define themselves as full-time students. You’ll note the growth in the proportion of households where everyone is working or some people are working while studying over time, that most students work in the early spring (start of semester 2) and that the number of student households is determined by two trends – demographic, and a general growth in student numbers.

The Covid times saw a sharper than usual spring decline in student household numbers as the first lockdown broke many of those households up. Summer student household numbers were the lowest on record, as were the number of households in the autumn (perhaps surprisingly, until you recall that many students returned to parental addresses earlier) and spring (though the change between autumn and early spring was more pronounced than usual).

And in terms of employment proportions it is notable that people were more likely to remain at their term time address this summer to work than for any other reason, and that student households where all or some were working remained at their highest proportionally during the pandemic.

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