Women of different ethnicities enter and exit the UK workforce because of many factors, not just cultural difference

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muslim womenA study of women’s working patterns shows that cultural differences should not be overemphasised to explain why women join and leave the workplace.

Understanding Society has a boost sample of over 6,000 adults from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The new research by Professor Lucinda Platt from the London School of Economics (LSE) and Yassine Khoudja from the Centre of Research and Analysis of Migration at University College London used the first four waves of Understanding Society to look at what factors can affect women of different ethnicities entering and exiting the workplace in the UK.

Previous studies have attempted to explain ‘ethnic differences’ in women’s working patterns by examining women’s education, language skills, household conditions and endorsement of traditional gender role attitudes. However, most of these studies used a cross-sectional design, meaning that they only looked at the labour market status of women at one point in time.

Yassine Khoudja said: “Our approach gives an insight into whether there are similar (or different) patterns of labour market entries and exits behind similar labour market participation rates. Moreover, it allows us to connect life-course events such as giving birth and changes in the partner’s income more directly to labour market transitions of women than in a cross-sectional study. Finally, our study also examined the role of gender ideology for explaining ethnic differences in women’s labour market transitions, which has rarely been done in earlier research.”

Key findings

  • Pakistani and Bangladeshi women have the lowest entry rates and the highest exit rates from the labour market, compared to the White majority women. These differences in entry and exit rates cannot fully be accounted for by ethnic differences, e.g. language skills or endorsement of traditional gender role attitudes.
  • Indian and Sri Lankan women have relatively similar transition patterns compared to White majority women.
  • Caribbean women are more flexible in their decisions to participate in the labour market over the life-course than White majority women.
  • Caribbean women who remain single over two waves are no more likely to enter the labour market than Caribbean women who remain partnered.
  • A new baby reduces the chance of labour market entry and increases the chance of labour market exit.
  • A decrease in a partner’s income is connected to an increased chance of a woman entering the labour market, whereas an increase in his income makes it more likely that a woman will exit the labour market.
  • Single women are in general more likely to enter the labour market than women in stable relationships.
  • Gender role attitudes show a clear influence on women’s decision to enter or exit the labour market. They can partially explain the lower entry and higher exit rates of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women compared to White majority women over and above life-course events such as giving birth and a change in the partners’ income.

Why was Understanding Society used for this research?

Professor Lucinda Platt said:

  • “It is a nationally representative dataset with a large sample size.”
  • “It has a large ethnic minority sample, including an ethnic minority boost sample, which allowed us to compare respondents from different ethnic minority groups.”
  • “It’s a longitudinal study with annual waves, which enabled us to take the dynamic approach, exploring both labour market entry and exit, and investigating changes in life circumstances associated with entry and exit.”
  • “It contains a range of measures that were central to our research question (ethnicity, employment, educational qualifications, English language fluency, migration status, family context, income, gender role attitudes etc.).”
  • “A survey that combines all these features is almost unique in Europe, which is why there are very few studies that have compared the labour market transitions of women from different ethnic groups.”

Policy recommendations

Yassine Khoudja said: “Our study shows that changes in the household conditions of women (i.e. entering or leaving a partnership, an income change of the partner, and motherhood) play an important role in explaining ethnic differences in women’s labour force transitions. Therefore we recommend policy makers improve the reconciliation of work and family, for example by providing easier and cheaper access to childcare, but also by creating policies that facilitate flexible work hours.”

Read the full paper

‘Labour market entries and exits of women from different origin countries in the UK’ by Yassine Khoudja and Lucinda Platt was published on the LSE website in August 2016.

NB Please note that this news article has been reposted from the Understanding Society website.