Staying or Leaving?, a paper published by the National Foundation for Educational Research, rounds up the findings of 35 studies of post-16 choices.
It found that while more young people are staying on after 16 than ever before, a number of interrelating influences did much to determine their destinations.
Staying-on rates were higher where there were high levels of unemployment, in areas with a lot of service industries. Those in rural areas were much more likely to take vocational routes.
Home and family background had a greater influence than school, although the educational establishment attended did have an effect and working-class pupils in most effective schools chose more academic routes than middle-class pupils in poorly-performing schools.
The correlation between social class, educational achievement and pupils' choices - with middle-class children more likely to continue with their studies than working-class kids - was still strong, but diminishing. Likewise, the recurring problem of underachieving boys was reflected in higher staying-on rates among girls than boys.
Rachel Brooks, NFER research officer and the report's author, said advice and guidance needed to be directed towards tackling the structural inequalities in society if these trends were to be broken. She said:
"Without this the horizons of opportunity of many diasadvantaged young people will remain extremely limited.
"More research in this area is essential if policy-makers are to be able to evaluate the impact of specific initiatives such as Welfare to Work and the campaign to tackle the underachievement of boys. In particular, the inequalities in education and training experienced by young people from different ethnic groups, social classes and genders needs to be addressed."
Staying or Leaving? - a literature review of factors affecting the take-up of post-16 options, available from the NFER (tel 01753 574123) price pound;5.