An Overview of Employment and Labour Market Participation of British Muslims
A fairly complex range of current and historical factors shape the general Muslim employment position.
The 2001 Census provides an overall negative picture of labour market participation by British Muslims, with a lower percentage of citizens in employment and, consequently, higher levels of unemployment and economic inactivity. This holds true across cross comparisons with other religions, with other ethnicities and also in a cross analysis of ethnicity and religion. There are clear differences between the Muslim men and the Muslim women within each category. Less clear is the degree to which regional factors impact upon this position. For example, is the position in Birmingham for Pakistani men considerably different to the position in Leicester of Indian men, and why?
A complexity precedes the figures, a story remains in play. The slowdown of some industries in parts of the country and their proximity to higher Muslim concentrations; lower levels of aspiration; a lack of role models for the young; lower attainment in degree level education, possibly made worse by forms of entry barriers to institutions; caring for the elderly within the family home; a lack of suitable childcare; employer discrimination and subsequent social isolation, and ‘office culture’ hurdles, have all been cited within a broadening range of texts, field research and surveys as (the combination of) factors that would yield the overall position above.
Just over half of all Muslim males (in England and Wales aged 16 to 64) are in employment, the those who are Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and of No Religion all have figures of over 70% (Christians show the highest score of 77%). One third of Muslim males (in England and Wales aged 16 to 64) are economically inactive and 12% were unemployed. In all cases, these represent the poorest scores when comparing groups overall by religion. By way of comparison of actual numbers against other religious groupings, 163,274 economically inactive Muslim men is over 11 times the number of Jewish, over 6 times the number of Sikh and over 3 times the number of Hindu male citizens from the same category, aged 16 to 64.
Economic inactivity was subdivided in the 200 Census into five categories in the Census: retired, student, looking after home/ family, permanently sick/ disabled and other. Only 4% of Muslim men cited retirement as a reason (national average 16%) and close to half (45%) were students, although Hindu (51%), Buddhist (50%), Jewish (49%) and Sikh (47%) were also economically inactive because they are students. However show a significant 8% of Muslim men are economically inactive because of the need to look after the home or family.
Younger women are poised to enter the labour market but are also needed as carers.
The differences in economic activity are even starker with women (in England and Wales aged 16 to 64). As a general rule, employment rates for women were over 60% for all religious groups including the two categories of Other Religion and No Religion; only Buddhist women (and Muslim women) fell short of the 60%. Roughly a quarter (27%) of Muslim women were employed or earning by comparison. But of the remainder, unemployment counts for a much smaller proportion, less than 10% of the total, as two thirds of Muslim women were economically inactive instead, more than half of whom (53%) were looking after the home/ family. 1 in 5 was a student, which is in line with the national average of 19%. The actual number of 305,058 economically inactive Muslim women is over 12 times higher than the number of Jewish, over 7 times higher than Sikh and over 4 times higher than Hindu female citizens from the same category, aged 16 to 59.
The single most reason for women across all groups being economically inactive was to look after the home/ family (or to use more old fashioned language, being a ‘housewife’), and the national average for this reason is 47%. The second most cited reason was being a student. The scores for Muslim women broadly match the national averages for these reasons. A clear difference lies not in the reasons for being economically inactive but in the number of Muslim women who are economically active. Whilst Muslim women are seeking an education beyond compulsory schooling, the further education (beginning with A-Levels) is not resulting in employment or earnings for any beyond a quarter of all Muslim women.
These figures are reflected further by data of female economic activity by ethnic groups, where we also find much lower employment/ earning figures for women form the Pakistani (25%) and Bangladeshi (21%) ethnic groups alongside very high rates of economic inactivity: Pakistani (70%) and Bangladeshi (73%). All other ethnic groups exceed 50% for women, including the culturally close Indian groups (a small segment of whom will be Muslims), with the exception of the Other Asian and Other Ethnic groups who exceed 45% in economic activity nonetheless.
Although the Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groupings make up the largest segment of British Muslims, they do not account for something in the region of 45% of all British Muslims. The figures of Muslim women in economic activity cannot then be explained in linear or simple religious or ethnic terms, but does suggests a strong cultural inheritance influencing the interpretation of religious ideals on family structures and the ‘role’ of women.
Given the young age demographic, this may be at tension with the 20% of Muslim women who are economically inactive because they are in active pursuit of further education. If this is the case, then the resulting tension is likely to bring about a steady shift in the number of Muslim women in employment, although given that a third of all Muslims were under the age of 16 in 2001, we will continue to see a sizeable percentage who will be economically inactive because they are post 16 students. So whilst the actual numbers will increase, the comparative proportions will move more slowly by balancing the other side out. In this way the number of women in economic activity is expected to creep towards national averages over the longer period of 10 to 15 years, and possibly longer.