Those on free school meals and from coastal towns were also being “left behind”, according to the watchdog’s director for fair access and participation.
The OFS has looked into what factors play a role in whether someone goes into higher education, with the measure including race, poverty and location.
Chris Millward, its fair access and participation director, said white British teenagers who have either received free school meals or who grew up in areas called “low-participation neighbourhoods” were the least likely to go to university.
These students made up the vast majority — 92 per cent — of students in the bottom fifth of those likely to participate in higher education.
“These are the people and places that have been left behind,” Mr Millward said.
He said “virtually all of the lowest-participation neighbourhoods” were “formerly industrial towns and cities across the north and midlands, or coastal towns”.
Mr Millward warned that communities in places including Great Yarmouth, Sheffield, Stoke, Hull and parts of Nottingham have been left behind in recent years.
He suggested “experience across successive generations” could play a role in these groups being less likely to access higher education.
“The expansion of educational opportunities, and the belief that equality of opportunity would flow from this, have not delivered for them,” Mr Millward said. “So they are less likely to see education as the way to improve their lives.”
He made the comments in a blog called “White students who are left behind: the importance of place”.
The OfS said it will continue considering how the new measure “can improve support for the most underrepresented groups of students” by working with higher learning institutions.
This move aimed to deliver “better value for students” and keep the cost of higher education under control, the government said in a long-awaited response to the Augar review of higher education.