A study in the United Kingdom found that despite being highly qualified, high unemployment rates of Muslims in Britain are “not due to cultural and religious practices” – that is, the victim is not to blame.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed Ethnic and Racial Studies journal, confirming previous findings of a “Muslim penalty” in the British labor market. It also showed that being white is “not a protection from the Muslim penalty” and that non-Muslims perceived to be Muslim also suffered from the discrimination.
Importantly, the study found that Muslims continue to be penalized considerably even after adjusting for the so-called “sociocultural attitudes” – rejecting the widespread assumption that Muslims are to blame for being discriminated against in the job market due to their cultural and religious practices.
The study found that both Muslim women and men had a significantly higher probability of unemployment compared to their white Christian counterparts.
Samir Sweida-Metwally, a doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol who carried out the research supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, told the Guardian: “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 problematizes 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.”
The research used 10 years of data from 100,000 participants from the annual UK Household Longitudinal survey, which gathers information on people’s socio-economic situation.
Sweida-Metwally found that, “‘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 labor market participation and unemployment among Muslims men and women.”
The study also found that “perceived Muslimness” – people perceived to be Muslim even though they are not – was found to have one of the highest chances of unemployment, where Arab men of no religion were among those with the highest likelihood of unemployment/inactivity .
Sweida-Metwally concluded that Islamophobia is multidimensional and relates to color, religion, culture and country of origin, where discrimination can occur against any of these dimensions. He concluded that there is both a “Muslim” and “black penalty” at play in the British job market and that this study confirms previous studies.
No change from five years ago
The findings in Sweida-Metwally’s study are in accordance with what the government’s Social Mobility Commission found in 2017 that “Muslims are being excluded, discriminated against or failed at all stages of their transition from education to employment. Taken together, these contributory factors have profound implications for social mobility,” said Professor Jacqueline Stevenson of Sheffield Hallam University, who led the study.
At the time, Stevenson had told the Guardian that the research highlighted routine examples of Muslim men and women failing to secure jobs that were commensurate with their skills and qualifications.
The research involved a series of in-depth focus groups across the country through which young Muslims shared their experiences. One woman in Liverpool said her father had suggested “changing her name to help get a job.”
A female respondent in High Wycombe referred to hearing comments such as “he looked very Muslim” or “look at her, she’s got a scarf on.” Another said they felt that when white children went to school they might fear getting bullied but the thought would definitely happen to all ethnic-minority children.
At the time, Alan Milburn, the former Cabinet minister who headed the government-sponsored Social Mobility Commission, said the research painted a disturbing picture.
“The British social mobility promise is that hard work will be rewarded. Unfortunately, for many young Muslims in Britain today this promise is being broken,” he said at the time and called for action by the government, communities, educators and employers; however, the evidence shows no such action was taken and the Islamophobia in the job market is left to fester.