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Poor labour market performance amongst Muslims in Britain is not due to cultural habits, study finds

Press release issued: 19 July 2022

New research has discovered that Muslims’ so-called 'sociocultural attitudes' cannot explain their poor labour market outcomes in the British labour market.

 The findings, published in Ethnic and Racial Studies, challenge a pervasive narrative that problematises Muslims and their faith, providing empirical evidence that comparatively high Muslim unemployment and inactivity rates cannot be explained by their so-called 'sociocultural attitudes'. In doing so, 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.

 Samir Sweida-Metwally, doctoral researcher at Bristol’s School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies and author of the paper, explained: “It is well established that Muslims experience the greatest faith penalty in the labour market relative to any other religious groups even after adjusting for factors that are likely to impact employment, such as education, age, region, language proficiency, and health. While some academics argue that discrimination is likely to be an important driver of these penalties, others suggest that factors related to cultural values are the cause, particularly among women. In the context of Muslims, these ‘internal cultural factors’, namely ‘tastes for isolation’ and, particularly for women, a supposed commitment to ‘traditional gender norms’ are assumed to stem from their religion”.

 In the paper, Mr Sweida-Metwally analysed 10 years of data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, one of the largest surveys of its kind, which gathers information on the socio-economic situation and cultural contexts from around 40,000 households. He explained: “I wanted to know if the Muslim penalty, among men and women, really disappears once so-called ‘sociocultural attitudes are accounted for, as some have suggested. Specifically, are religiosity, traditionalist views, and lower civic participation associated with a higher risk of unemployment and inactivity?”

The paper found no such association. Another important contribution is that the paper questions the contention that, amongst men, the ethnic penalty is best understood as resulting primarily from two penalties - colour and religion - and suggests that a country-of-origin penalty may also be at play.

The risk of a penalty, particularly in terms of unemployment, was also found to remain considerably high for Black African and Black Caribbean men regardless of whether they practised or identified with a religious faith, providing strong evidence in support of previous research which established that the British labour market is hierarchised based on skin colour.

Mr Sweida-Metwally now aims to advance a more complete view of religious and ethno-religious inequalities in the British labour market.

The research is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, who fund Mr Sweida-Metwally’s PhD.

 Paper: ‘Does the Muslim penalty in the British labour market dissipate after accounting for so-called “sociocultural attitudes”?’ by Samir Sweida-Metwally in Ethnic and Racial Studies

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