The Effect of Occupation on Poverty Among Ethnic Minority Groups


This study examined low pay and inequalities in employment among ethnic minority workers, specifically among employees. The prime focus was on the role of occupational choices. Does it affect ethnic minority workers’ well-being 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?

Project conclusions

It is well known that white British employees tend to receive higher pay than ethnic minority employees but it is less well known that this does necessarily mean they are paid less for work they do. This research shows that low pay for ethnic minorities is primarily the result of being over-represented in low-paying occupations rather than of being low paid within these. Further, some ethnic minority groups actually do better than white or white British people within occupations. Finally, while relatively poor education might keep some out of employment altogether, members of minority groups tend to be better educated than their white British counterparts, so differential education is unlikely to be a major cause of this problem. The inequality problem is that there are either hidden barriers to entry into some better paid occupations or minority groups tend to self-select into some occupations rather than others (with the health sector being a prime example).


The research was based on two large-scale datasets, the Labour Force Survey and the UK Household Panel Survey. The analysis examined the wages of a number of ethnic minority groups compared with White ethnic groups, and looked at over 80 occupations to pinpoint the different situations that ethnic minority groups typically face.

Team members

Dr Malcolm Brynin, Reader, ISER, University of Essex

Dr Simonetta Longhi, Department of Economics, University of Reading

Dr Ayse Güveli, Reader, University of Essex


Joseph Rowntree Foundation


December 2013 – September 2014


Report, “The Effect of Occupation on Poverty Among Ethnic Minority Groups” (March 2015)