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Immigration and inequality

Migration is a topic of much interest and debate. But what do we know about the relationship between immigrants and inequality?

Do countries like the UK attract the most skilled workers, increasing inequality between richer and poorer countries? Do immigrants undercut wages in lower paid jobs and increase inequality? And what about the labour market disadvantages faced by migrants themselves? Are they treated unequally getting lower rewards for their qualifications and effort? And does this change over time? What is their experience outside work – are they well integrated into local communities and broader society or do they face geographical and social segregation?

These are all central questions to explore in order to develop a full understanding of how immigrants affect destination countries and what they themselves gain or lose from migration.

Immigrants are of course themselves highly diverse. Some migrate with substantial resources and form part of a global mobile elite. Others move for opportunities for themselves or their children that they cannot achieve in their home country, but may end up working in precarious, demanding or low-paid work, as well as in more secure and well-rewarded jobs such as IT and healthcare. There is greater inequality among immigrants than there is in the population as a whole. But as they only make up around 14 per cent of the UK population, this has little impact on overall inequality.

Immigrants to the UK have on average higher qualifications than the overall population, but they do not necessarily work in jobs that fit those qualifications, particularly at first. But there are great differences among immigrants, depending on when they came to the UK, why they came, and where they came from, in terms of what jobs they undertake, where they live, how their lives and wellbeing develop over time, and how well their children do as they grow up.

Overall, the relationship between immigration and inequality can be approached from many different angles. Charting and investigating inequalities both between immigrants and the UK-born population and among immigrants not only provides insight into a hotly debated topic, but is informative more widely about the opportunities available to those with different backgrounds and resources both in this generation and in the future.

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