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Race and ethnicity

Diversity and disadvantage

The UK is becoming increasingly ethnically diverse: over 20 per cent of the population reports being from a minority ethnic group. While many within this population are first-generation immigrants, a substantial share – approaching half of individuals in Asian and Black ethnic groups overall – are born in the UK. This is also increasingly the case for their parents and grandparents as well.

The experience of the UK’s minority ethnic communities varies both in terms of current outcomes and the speed and direction of travel in recent years. While those from almost all minority groups now attend university at higher rates than the White British majority population, there remains substantial variation between groups in their academic attainment. Those of Indian and Chinese ethnicity outperform their White majority counterparts at particularly high rates.

Employment and pay inequalities across ethnic and gender groups

Tests of applications sent to employers show that there continues to be systematic racial discrimination within the labour market across ethnicities. Labour market disadvantage in terms of unemployment, occupational attainment and pay varies substantially. Rates of unemployment faced by Black groups are particularly high – more than double those of the White majority, and the gaps are even larger among young people. There are also differences by sex: while women tend to have slightly lower unemployment rates than men, Pakistani women have unemployment rates twice those of Pakistani men and over three times those of White majority women.

Understanding and addressing ethnic inequalities

The distinct profiles of the UK’s various minority ethnic groups – in terms of migration histories, patterns of settlement, and demographic structure, for instance – make understanding these varied outcomes especially challenging. Specific factors can be more or less important for specific groups, and understanding the importance of these different drivers is crucial for thinking about the role of different policies in widening or reducing ethnic inequalities.

In many European countries, concern with ethnic disadvantage has had a strong focus on educational attainment. In the UK, ethnic groups are (now) performing at comparably high levels educationally on headline measures. Thus the question now becomes: why does this educational attainment not clearly translate into equivalent labour market success? Why does it do so less for some minorities than for others? Continued employment discrimination provides one starting point, but more broadly it is relevant to consider the related roles of occupational choices and outcomes, pay and career progression, and family roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, contrasting the experience of those born in the UK and those that migrated here is important for understanding the extent to which the UK provides opportunities for social mobility over generations for minority groups relative to the majority.

Such issues will be at the core of this chapter, which seeks to address how race and ethnicity structure the experience of inequality in the UK. While we cannot hope to explain all differences across all groups, we draw attention to some of the most salient changes and gaps, and shed light on how these can be understood so that we can better inform policies to address ethnic inequalities in Britain.