BAME millennials at greater risk of being in unstable employment

2 March 2020

Millennials from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are 47% more likely to be on a zero-hours contract, and have 10% greater odds of working a second job, compared to their White peers, according to a new report from the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Carnegie UK Trust, and Operation Black Vote.

BAME millennials are also 5% more likely to be doing shift work, and are 4% less likely to have a permanent contract than White workers.

At the report’s launch in Parliament today (Monday 2 March), the authors will call on the Government, mental health services and employers to take action to tackle racial inequalities in access to good work.

The research draws on information from a nationally-representative group of more than 7,700 people living in England who were born in 1989-90 and are being followed by a study called Next Steps. The researchers, led by Dr Morag Henderson (UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies), compared the employment status of 25-year-olds from different ethnic backgrounds – White, Mixed-race, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean, Black African, and other minority ethnicities. They also examined the mental health of people in different types of employment.

Although BAME workers on the whole had more trouble finding stable employment than their White counterparts, experiences in the job market varied for different ethnic groups. For instance, Pakistani millennials were more likely to be on a zero-hours contract or be working shifts, and less likely to have a permanent job than their White peers. However, Indian and Black Caribbean workers were no more likely than their White counterparts to be in these types of employment.

Black African 25-year-olds had lower odds of being in a permanent role and were more likely to be doing shift work than White workers of the same age. But Mixed-race, Indian and Black Caribbean millennials had similar chances of being in these types of jobs. Only Black Caribbean 25-year-olds were more likely than their White peers to be working a second job.

The findings held even when other factors that could affect labour market success were taken into account, including gender, family background and educational attainment.

The research also showed that, on the whole, millennials from BAME backgrounds were 58% more likely to be unemployed than their White counterparts. But again, experiences differed for each ethnic group. Although 25-year-olds from Pakistani, Black African, and Mixed-race backgrounds were more likely to be unemployed than their White peers, Indian, Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean adults were no more likely to be out of work.

However, even though ethnic minority groups faced more challenges in the labour market, the overwhelming majority of millennials were in permanent employment at age 25. Indian and White workers (89%) were the most likely to be in a stable role, followed by Mixed-race (87%), Black Caribbean (86%), Bangladeshi (85%), Pakistani (84%), Black African (81%) and other ethnicities (80%).

Unfavourable employment status was also found to be linked to mental ill health. While the greatest disparities were between those who were unemployed and those who were working, millennials in unstable employment also suffered poorer mental health than those not working under these conditions. The connection between employment status and mental health at age 25 held even when the researchers considered whether the participants had mental health problems in their teenage years.

Lord Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote said: “This report must be a serious wake up call for the Government, industry and our mental health practitioners. The race penalty in the work space is further exacerbated by mental health issues. It’s a double hit if you’re from a BAME community. We can, however, turn this around, but we need collective leadership.”

Douglas White from Carnegie UK Trust said: “Good work can have a really positive impact on people’s wellbeing – but we need to tackle the inequalities in who has access to good quality jobs. This report highlights that young people from BAME communities are particularly likely to enter into precarious forms of work. We need policy and practice to recognise and respond to this to ensure that good work is available to all.”

Dr Morag Henderson, of the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, said: “Our findings suggest that broad brush policies to improve employment conditions for BAME groups are unlikely to work for everyone. We need to better understand what’s driving the particular challenges different ethnic minorities are facing in the job market.”

Responding to the report, Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE said: “These new research findings paint a familiar pattern that I discussed in my Government Review ‘Race in the workplace: persistent race penalties at the lower pay scale’. A key solution we recommended, and which remains valid, is the introduction of ethnic minority pay reporting. Until organisations publish data and put plans in place to reduce pay gaps, nothing fundamentally changes. It is time for action rather than words.”

The report outlines 13 recommendations for action, including:

  • Racial inequality, including the ethnicity pay gap, need to be better addressed in Government efforts to improve access to good work.
  • Employers should carry out internal audits of race disparity, in consultation with their employees and with support from trade unions and race equality bodies.
  • Developing guidance for mental health services on how to improve access for ethnic minority groups is an urgent priority.

Further information:

Full report

‘Race inequality in the workforce: exploring connections between work, ethnicity and mental health’ by Georgina Bowyer, Morag Henderson, Douglas White and Simon Woolley is a report from Carnegie UK Trust, UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies and Operation Black Vote.

Media coverage of this research

BBC Radio 4 – Today programme (23:50-27:30)

BBC Asian Network – Asian Network Reports (07:40-12:19)

BBC News Channel – Worklife broadcast (15:00-17:33)

The Guardian – BAME millennials have less stable working lives than their white peers

BBC – Young ethnic minority workers more likely to be in unstable jobs – study

The Independent – Black, Asian and minority ethnic millenials at greater risk of unstable employment, study finds

Metro – BAME millennials much more likely to be in ‘unstable jobs’ than white workers


Ryan Bradshaw – UCL Institute of Education
020 7612 6516

Meghan Rainsberry – UCL Institute of Education
020 7612 6530

Notes for editors:

  1. The ‘Other’ ethnic group includes young adults from Chinese, Arab and other BAME backgrounds. These had to be aggregated due to low numbers in the data and to avoid being disclosive.
  2. Next Steps (previously known as the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England) is a nationally-representative study that has been following the lives of about 16,000 young people born in 1989-90 who attended secondary school in England. It began in 2004 when the participants were in Year 9 and turning 14 years old, and continues to follow them through their adult lives. Next Steps is managed by the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. From 2004 to 2012, the study was managed and funded by the Department for Education.
  3. The Carnegie UK Trust has a long history of research and practice development on public services and community empowerment across the UK and Ireland. The Trust invests in evidence-based policy development and translates its findings into real-world activities. This allows them to build up a clear set of messages and use these to influence decision makers. By doing this, their recommendations can bring about change and, most importantly, improve people’s wellbeing.
  4. Operation Black Vote seeks to confront persistent racial inequalities by politically empowering Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities, particularly the disadvantaged, and young people; nurturing BME individuals so that they can take up roles in our civic, political, decision-making and community spaces; and to help transform institutions to become more inclusive, modern and representative.
  5. The UCL Institute of Education is a world-leading centre for research and teaching in education and social science, ranked number one for education worldwide in the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 QS World University Rankings. It was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2016. In 2014, the IOE secured ‘outstanding’ grades from Ofsted on every criterion for its initial teacher training, across primary, secondary and further education programmes. In the most recent Research Excellence Framework assessment of university research, the IOE was top for ‘research power’ (GPA multiplied by the size of the entry) in education. Founded in 1902, the Institute currently has more than 8,000 students and 800 staff. In December 2014 it became a single-faculty school of UCL, called the UCL Institute of Education.
  6. UCL – London’s Global University UCL is a diverse community with the freedom to challenge and think differently. Our community of more than 41,500 students from 150 countries and over 12,500 staff pursues academic excellence, breaks boundaries and makes a positive impact on real world problems. We are consistently ranked among the top 10 universities in the world and are one of only a handful of institutions rated as having the strongest academic reputation and the broadest research impact. We have a progressive and integrated approach to our teaching and research – championing innovation, creativity and cross-disciplinary working. We teach our students how to think, not what to think, and see them as partners, collaborators and contributors.  For almost 200 years, we are proud to have opened higher education to students from a wide range of backgrounds and to change the way we create and share knowledge. We were the first in England to welcome women to university education and that courageous attitude and disruptive spirit is still alive today. We are UCL.| Follow @uclnews on Twitter | Watch our YouTube channel | Listen to UCL podcasts on SoundCloud | Find out what’s on at UCL Minds | #MadeAtUCL
  7. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. For more information visit
  8. The ESRC is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policy-makers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective.

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