Study challenges idea poor outcomes are due to Muslims’ so-called ‘sociocultural attitudes’
By Haroon Siddique Sun 17 Jul 2022 14.50 BST
Poor outcomes for Muslims in the British labour market cannot be explained by sociocultural attitudes, such as commitment to traditionalism, a study has found.
The research, published in the peer-reviewed Ethnic and Racial Studies journal, confirmed the existence of a “Muslim penalty” in the employment market but rejected previous suggestions that it was due to cultural and religious practices.
Both Muslim men and Muslim women were found to have significantly greater probability of unemployment than their respective white British Christian counterparts after adjustments were made for factors such as age, where they live, education and whether they have children. The author then adjusted for factors such as religiosity, gender attitudes, and civic participation but found that they had only a minor effect on the “Muslim penalty”.
Samir Sweida-Metwally, doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol, who carried out the research, supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, said: “The findings offer evidence against the view that Muslims’ poor employment outcomes in Britain are due to their so-called ‘sociocultural attitudes’.
“In challenging this narrative, which problematises 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.”
His 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, primarily through face-to-face interviews on people’s socio-economic situation.
Participants have been asked questions including on the strength of their religious beliefs, whether they are members of social organisations and whether they agree with statements that say “Husband should earn, wife should stay at home”, and “Family life suffers if mother works full-time”. This enabled Sweida-Metwally to ascertain whether certain attitudes were associated with a higher risk of unemployment.
He concluded: “‘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.”
Another significant finding 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/inactivity. Sweida-Metwally wrote this “might suggest that perceived Muslimness is more important for predicting religious disadvantage among men than actual attachment to the faith”.
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He added: “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.”
The study found that when it came to men, those of black Caribbean ethnicity had the highest risk of unemployment. Among women, Muslims generally exhibited the greatest risk of unemployment, with Pakistani women displaying the highest risk of unemployment.
Sweida-Metwally said: “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.”