STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT-LONDON: The high unemployment rate among Muslims in the UK cannot be explained by sociocultural attitudes, such as commitment to traditionalism, a study has found.
Published in the peer-reviewed Ethnic and Racial Studies journal, the research confirmed the existence of a “Muslim penalty” in the employment market that discriminates against them and poses a significant barrier to them accessing work.
It rejected previous suggestions that high unemployment was due to cultural and religious practices.
Muslim men and women were found to have a significantly greater likelihood of unemployment than their respective white British Christian counterparts after adjustments were made for factors such as age, area of residence, education, and whether they have children.
After taking into consideration factors like religiosity, gender attitudes, and civic participation, the author found that they had only a minor effect.
“The findings offer evidence against the view that Muslims’ poor employment outcomes in Britain are due to their so-called sociocultural attitudes,” the author of the research, supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, told the Guardian newspaper.
Samir Sweida-Metwally, a doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol, added: “In challenging this narrative, which problematizes Muslims and their faith, the study lends support to the overwhelming evidence from field experiments that shows anti-Muslim discrimination towards Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim to be a significant barrier to them accessing work.”
The researcher’s paper uses 10 years of data from the UK Household Longitudinal study, an annual survey of about 100,000 people from 40,000 households that collects information, mainly through face-to-face interviews on people’s socio-economic situation.
Participants were asked questions including how strong their religious beliefs are, whether they are members of social organisations, and whether they agree with statements such as: “Husband should earn, wife should stay at home,” and “Family life suffers if mother works full-time.” This enabled Sweida-Metwally to establish whether specific attitudes were associated with a higher risk of unemployment.
“Sociocultural variables such as gender attitudes, language proficiency, and the extent of inter and intra-ethnic social ties are not a convincing source of the unexplained ethno-religious differences in labour market participation and unemployment among Muslim men and women,” he said.
Another finding of interest was that country of origin or “perceived ‘Muslimness’” might be important. While white British Muslims did not display a significantly different risk of unemployment and inactivity from white British Christians, Arab men of no religion were among those with the highest likelihood of unemployment or inactivity.
“This might suggest that perceived ‘Muslimness’ is more important for predicting religious disadvantage among men than actual attachment to the faith,” Sweida-Metwally wrote.
“This means that an understanding that Islamophobia is multidimensional, and relates to colour, religion, culture and country of origin, with any one dimension of difference being ‘enough’ for someone inclined to be prejudiced, is essential to any strategy seeking to attenuate these inequalities,” he added.
With regards to men, the study found that those of black Caribbean ethnicity had the highest risk of unemployment. Among women, Muslims displayed the greatest risk of unemployment, with Pakistani women exhibiting the highest risk of unemployment.
“Overall, the evidence indicates support for the thesis that there is both a religious (Muslim) and colour (Black) penalty at play in the British labour market. Confirming previous research, religion is a much better predictor of unemployment and inactivity for women, whereas for men both colour and religion are important,” Sweida-Metwally said.