Do migrants undercut the job quality of natives?

The type of jobs people have access to – beyond earnings – is a crucial indicator of their integration and equal opportunities in the UK. What factors contribute to differences and why should we care? If migrants and minorities are consistently found in the worse jobs, this does not bode well for integration. If majority members do poorly in occupations with a high share of migrants this might mean that their economic prospects have been undercut. In particular, we investigate differences that can come about through (1) differences in socio-demographic characteristics and resources, (2) living in different localities with fewer opportunities and community support (are the ethnic niches supportive or not), (3) a different selection into occupations, or (4) unobserved differences and discrimination. Here we focus on the results for men.


We use latent class analysis and identify 5 classes of work. At the top end are high-quality jobs with good outcomes on all indicators; and at the bottom are bad jobs with poor outcomes on all measures. There are three further middling classes which each involve some compromise: high intrinsic / low rewards jobs combine high intrinsic job quality with low monetary rewards and unsociable hours; polarized jobs pay well and are secure, but offer poor work-life balance and low intrinsic quality; and unhappy 9 to 5 jobs provide very high work-life balance and average monetary rewards, but poor employment and intrinsic quality.


Our work shows that some disadvantage remains among UK-born ethnic minorities – especially in accessing the best jobs – compared to white British. The very worst jobs are disproportionally carried out by migrants. Migrants are also most at risk of further undercutting of their job conditions by increased competition. Finally, local ethnic communities may be able to provide some support to minorities, especially South-Asian ones, but are less beneficial for black communities.

Importantly, working in occupations with a higher share of migrants is negatively associated with job quality, but pronouncedly so for other migrants and UK-born black Caribbeans. We find that UK-born whites are also somewhat less likely to work in the best conditions when working in occupations with a higher share of migrants, although the effect is very small. Thus, a high share of migrants can be associated with greater competition for UK-born whites for the best jobs but concerns of undercutting of work conditions primarily affect second generations and migrants. After all, one should keep in mind that most UK-born whites do not work in occupations with a high presence of migrants, unlike UK-born minorities and especially migrants.

This research was carried out as part of the EU’s GEMM project, Growth, Equal Opportunities, Migration and Markets. The paper has been published in JEMS: