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Minorities' job prospects no better than in 1970s

19 Dec 2008

The employment prospects of some of Britain's ethnic minorities have failed to improve and may well have declined markedly since the 1970s according to the most detailed analysis ever carried out.

Professor Yaojun Li from The University of Manchester and Professor Anthony Heath from The University of Oxford say that in the 1970s, Black Caribbean, Black African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi men had almost as much chance of finding work as their White counterparts.

But by the mid 1980s and in the early 1990s, the differences grew by up to 30 percentage points - especially for men of Black African and Pakistani/Bangladeshi heritage.

Professors Li and Heath also found that minority groups suffer disproportionately from unemployment during periods of recession.

"In 2005, the employment situation for these groups was worse than it was 36 years ago in 1972.

“In other words Black Caribbean, Black African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi men have fallen well behind their White counterparts," said Professor Li.

“Previous government attempts to use legislation have failed to narrow the gap although the proposals in the Queen's Speech this month may offer some hope of progress,” added Professor Heath.

They carried out the research using government survey data in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Professor Li said: "The socio-economic position of the minority ethnic groups affects not only their own well-being, but the future status of the country as a major player in an ever-increasing globalised world.

“Improving the socio-economic conditions of these groups through employment and upward social mobility is not only an issue of social justice and social cohesion, it is concerned with the future economic prosperity of all members in the society."

The researchers also showed that Pakistani and Bangladeshis turned to self-employment from the early 1990s onwards.

"Working for themselves was perhaps as an 'escape strategy'", said Professor Heath.

Chinese men were consistently the most likely to be in self-employment but as sole-traders, family businesses or small employers.

By contrast, Black Africans are generally much less likely to be self-employed but for those amongst them who do become entrepreneurs, they will be more likely to be big employers than any other minority groups.

But on the other hand, they were most likely to face unemployment and inactivity, especially during the mid 1980s and the early 1990s.

Throughout the period, White groups had the highest rates of employment: around 90 per cent in employment up to 1980 and around 80 per cent thereafter.

White Irish men made steady progress on employment throughout the period, and have now caught up with the White British group.

Notes for editors

This study is the first systematic analysis of the labour market trajectories of men in different ethnic groups in Britain over the last three decades (1972-2005) using the most authoritative government datasets from the General Household Survey (GHS) and the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

Groups analysed were:

  • White British
  • White Irish
  • White Other
  • Black Caribbean
  • Black African
  • Indian
  • Pakistani/Bangladeshi
  • Chinese

‘Minority ethnic men in British labour market (1972 to 2005)’ was published in the June 2008 edition of International Journal of Sociology and Social policy 28(5/6): 231-244. It is available.

For media enquiries contact:

Mike Addelman

Media Relations Officer

Faculty of Humanities

The University of Manchester

0161 275 0790

07717 881 567

michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk