Ethnic discrimination in the labour market

There has been an increasing focus in recent years on inequality in the labour market, in particular on pay gaps within jobs. Research for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) by MiSoC’S Malcolm Brynin with Simonetta Longhi (now at Reading University) has contributed to this debate, using the Labour Force Survey, and includes a detailed examination of pay gaps based on ethnicity.

The overall picture of these pay gaps is complex. While men from ethnic minorities all earn less than white British men, with Pakistani and even more Bangladeshi men way below, women from minorities generally do not earn less than white British women. Often they earn more – with Pakistani and Bangladeshi women being the exceptions. However, these women tend to earn significantly less than the equivalent ethnic minority men. Most worryingly, the situation of Bangladeshi women has worsened considerably over time.

The researchers also focused on the role of occupational choices. Does it affect ethnic minority workers’ wellbeing if they tend to enter certain employment sectors rather than others? Do they enter low-paid occupations, or is the problem that they receive relatively low pay whatever occupations they enter? Which sectors offer the best wages and are ethnic minority groups well represented in these? Finally, what factors are associated with these occupational choices? For instance, are ethnic minority employees who enter low-paid occupations relatively poorly educated, or are they less able to obtain positions suited to their skills?

Key findings

Although the wage gap relative to white employees is limited within occupations, it is significantly higher across employment sectors, implying that ethnic minority employees tend to be concentrated in low-paying occupations.

Ethnic minority employees fare well in some occupations, especially in the health sector. They are over-represented in some low-paying sectors such as catering, and under-represented in several which pay reasonably well, like metal-working and printing, or where there is a wage gap in their favour. The latter includes clerical and some communications work.

Considerable movement in and out of low pay occurs over even a short time period, but movement into low pay is more common among virtually all ethnic minority groups than for the white British majority.

Failure of education among ethnic minority groups is not a cause of poverty among ethnic minority employees, who tend to have slightly higher educational qualifications than the white majority and are as likely as the latter to work in graduate professions. However, ethnic minority employees are more likely to be overqualified for the work they are doing.