Why do Muslims underperform in the job market? A mixed methods inquiry assessing Muslims' poor labour market performance in England

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Sociology


It is widely held that Muslims suffer a 'Muslim penalty' in the UK labour market. Indeed, not only are they more likely to be unemployed, but they are also less likely to occupy a high-tier position than similarly qualified non-Muslims. In fact, in 2017, the Social Mobility Commission found that 'Muslims experience the greatest economic disadvantages of any group in UK society' (Social Mobility Commission, 2017, p.5). However, available research on the 'Muslim penalty' suffers from a lacuna because it chiefly centres on Muslims from an Asian background, and neglects the diversity of the group. Indeed, when ethnicity is alleged to have been considered, either the focus is predominantly put on Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslims (see Brown, 2000; Lindley, 2002), or certain ethnic groups are excluded from the study altogether (see Khattab and Modood, 2015: 502). Thus, effectively, 'Asian' ethno-cultural norms are being used as a proxy for Islamic ones. This is inaccurate, and brings into question the conclusion that a 'Muslim penalty' exists.

Therefore, answers to the following questions remain unsatisfactory. Are 'Muslims' in England penalised in the job market because of their faith? How do Muslims from distinct ethnic backgrounds perceive their barriers to labour market integration? I will answer these questions by undertaking a two-step mixed methods investigation. First, through a longitudinal study I will assess if we can indeed speak of a Muslim penalty. To do this, using data from the Understanding Society: The UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), I will investigate if being Muslim carries a higher risk of being unemployed than not being Muslim. I will also undertake a duration analysis to examine the length of time it takes for unemployed Muslims to transition into employment relative to non-Muslims. Thereafter, I will examine if being Muslim carries with it a higher probability of lower income than not being Muslim, and whether, if having lost their job, Muslims suffer a more severe earnings penalty (if at all) relative to non-Muslims with the same ethnic background, and the wider population.

The investigation will focus on working age adult Muslims, not in full-time education, from different ethnicities where there is a sufficient number of Muslims (e.g. White, Black Caribbean, Black African, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, and Arab). Some of the key variables I will use from the dataset include socio-economic characteristics, religion, cultural participation, ethnicity, and discrimination. In addition to a wealth of variables, the UKHLS offers many other advantages, including a large sample size (40,000 households), and eight waves of data (2009-2018). Moreover, given its panel design, the Ethnic Minority Boost Sample (n=6,000), and the fact the survey includes an emphasis on ethnicity-related questions, the UKHLS is ideal for this investigation. Second, I will undertake a qualitative study to investigate the quantitative findings in further detail. More specifically, through semi-structured one-to-one and focus group interviews with 60 participants - recruited through a snowballing technique via mosques and community associations across England after taking into account ethical considerations - I will explore what Muslims' own perception of the causes of labour market disadvantages are. That is, if they are perceived to be due to self-imposed barriers, perceived discrimination, or both. By undertaking a vignette study during the interviews, I will gather quantitative data from the participants to gain a better understanding of the values and motivations that drive their interaction with the job market. In terms of data analysis, after transcription, I will use topic models to unearth, through a mathematical framework, key themes (and their relative importance) to understand how Muslims in England negotiate their labour market challenges.


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2170265 Studentship ES/P000630/1 11/03/2019 10/03/2022 Samir Sweida-Metwally