Do migrants and minority members undercut the job quality of white British individuals?

Neli Demireva and Wouter Zwysen

This research has been undertaken as part of the GEMM project, Growth, Equal Opportunities, Migration and Markets: www.gemm2020.eu. The paper presents results on the employment outcomes and types of jobs migrants, ethnic minorities and white British majority members do. The type of jobs people have access to – beyond earnings – are 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. In this briefing we focus on the results for men.

We 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, 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 on 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 on undercutting of work conditions should be extended primarily to the situation of established minority groups and migrants. After all, one should keep in mind that most UK-born whites do not work in occupations with high presence of migrants unlike UK-born minorities and especially migrants.

The paper has been published: Zwysen, Wouter, and Neli Demireva. “Ethnic and migrant penalties in job quality in the UK: the role of residential concentration and occupational clustering.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (2018): 1-22.

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