Two people walking on a street Two people walking on a street

Key areas: Employment


Between 1995-97 and 2006-08, a steady growth in the number of jobs raised the percentage of women and of Black people of working age in employment by twice the average, and the percentage of Bangladeshi and Pakistani people of working age in employment by three times the average.¹

However, some groups with low employment rates have done badly over the long term, especially those pushed to the margins of the labour market. For example the employment rate for disabled men without qualifications halved between the mid-1970s and early 2000s. Calls to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s helpline also indicate that employment issues are significant for disabled people with over half of the calls in 2008-09 related to employment issues coming from this group.²

Despite some growth in their employment rates, only 1 in 4 Muslim women work, and many face practical barriers preventing them from doing so. Moreover, Black people and disabled people in their early 20s are twice as likely to be not in employment, education or training (NEET) as White people and non-disabled people. Young Muslim people are also more likely than Christian people to spend periods out of the labour market. Overall, a more demanding job market is less forgiving of those without qualifications.

Many barriers within employment are breaking down, with, for example, a growing proportion of managerial and professional positions taken by women. However, the British labour market continues to be characterised by a high level of occupational segregation. Around 25% of Pakistani men are primarily taxi drivers; women make up 83% of people employed in personal services; and over 40% of female jobs compared to 15% of male jobs are in the public sector, making women particularly vulnerable to public sector cuts.

Occupational segregation continues to feed pay differences, especially in the private and voluntary sectors where at age 40 men are earning on average 27% more than women. The large proportion of women in part-time jobs also contributes to this. Occupational segregation also explains differences in illness and injury rates in the workplace, with people in manual and routine occupations being most at risk.

There are few large-scale data on the labour market experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people. However, we do know that LGB adults are around twice as likely to report experiencing unfair treatment, discrimination, bullying or harassment at work than other employees. This is also mirrored in the nature of the queries received by the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s helpline, many of which relate to harassment in the workplace for this group.³ There are even less data available for transgender people, though smaller-scale studies point towards evidence of harassment and other forms of discrimination in the workplace.

Significant findings and headline data

Significant findings

The recent recession has hit some groups harder than others. As in most countries, men have been more adversely affected than women and young people more than older people. People over 50 have fared better than expected during the recession, perhaps due to their propensity to be flexible in the workplace. The impact of multiple disadvantages in a more competitive labour market, which is less forgiving of low qualifications than a generation ago, cannot be underestimated. Trends are moving in different directions however: disabled men are substantially less likely to work than in the past, while the gender gap in employment has almost halved since the mid-1990s, from 10 to 6 percentage points.

Headline data

  • For low qualified British men with disabilities the chances of working halved, from 77% to 38% from the 1970s to the 2000s.
  • Employment rates vary by impairment. For example, only 23% of people with depression are in employment, compared to 62% of people with skin conditions.
  • Figures suggest that 45% of disabled people in their early 20s are NEET.
  • Female employment has risen by 3 percentage points since 1995. Black Caribbean women are more likely to be in full-time work than any other group of women.
  • Only 1 in 4 Bangladeshi and Pakistani women works and almost half of Bangladeshi (49%) and Pakistani (44%) women are looking after the family or home, compared to 20% or fewer of other groups.
  • Muslim people have the lowest rate of employment of any religious group. Only 47% of Muslim men and 24% of Muslim women are employed and figures suggest that 42% of young Muslim people are NEET.

Significant findings
There is persistent gender and ethnic segregation in the labour market, where some sectors are gendered or dominated by a particular group.

Headline data

  • One in 4 Pakistani men in Britain are taxi drivers or similar.
  • In Britain, women occupy 77% of administration and secretarial posts but only 6% of engineering and 14% of architects, planners and surveyors. 83% of people employed in personal services are women.
  • In Britain, 40% of female jobs are in the public sector compared to 15% of male jobs.

Significant findings

The occupational structure of the labour market also reveals positive changes in status for some groups.

Headline data

  • Women hold 1 in 3 managerial jobs in Britain.
  • Bangladeshi and Pakistani women in Britain are more likely to be employed as professionals than Bangladeshi and Pakistani men.
  • Indian and Chinese people in Britain are twice as likely to be employed as professionals as White British people and the trend is upwards.
  • Muslim men are as likely to be in managerial or professional jobs as elementary ones; Jewish men are 13 times more likely to be in managerial or professional jobs than elementary ones.

Significant findings

Women now do better than men in every aspect of educational qualification but the pay gap between men and women remains. After falling continuously for the past 30 years, progress seems to have halted.

The gender pay gap is lowest for the under 30s, rising more than five-fold by the time workers reach 40. It is influenced by a number of factors: lower pay in sectors where women are more likely to choose careers, the effect of career breaks and
limited opportunities in part-time work. The level of earnings penalty is strongly mediated by levels of education but is not eliminated, even for the best-qualified women.

There remains a similarly pernicious earnings penalty on some ethnic minority groups and disabled people.

Headline data

  • Women with degrees are estimated to face only a 4% loss in lifetime earnings as a result of motherhood, while mothers with mid-level qualifications face a 25% loss and those with no qualifications a 58% loss.
  • Women aged 40 earn on average 27% less than men of the same age.
  • Disabled men experience a pay gap of 11% compared with non-disabled men, while the gap between disabled women and non-disabled men is double this at 22%.
  • Some research suggests that Black graduates face a 24% pay penalty.
  • Disabled women experience a 31% pay penalty compared to non-disabled men.

Significant findings

Evidence suggests that the workplace remains a stressful and difficult place for some groups, specifically transgender people and irregular migrant workers.

Headline data

  • People with a disability or long-term illness are over twice as likely to report bullying or harassment in the workplace as non-disabled people.
  • LGB people are twice as likely to be report discrimination and nearly twice as likely to report unfair treatment as heterosexuals.
  • Transgender people highlight transitioning at work as one of the most significant triggers for discrimination.
  1. Hills, J. et al. 2010. An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK. Report of the National Equality Panel. London: Government Equalities Office (GEO). Tables 10.3 and 10.4. See discussion on page 272 for limitations in robustness of comparison between the two periods.
  2. Calls received by the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s helpline 2008-09.
  3. Calls received by the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s helpline 2008-09.

Last updated: 25 May 2016