Muslim women less likely to find employment than white Christian women

17 April 2015

New research from the University of Bristol suggests that Muslim women are more likely to be unemployed than white Christian women, even when they have the same qualifications and language abilities.

Dr Nabil Khattab, from Bristol’s School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, told the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Glasgow on Wednesday that Muslim women were around 70 per cent more likely to be unsuccessful in obtaining paid work, partly due to discrimination by potential employers.

He acknowledged that this gap in employment in Muslim communities may also be due to the gender division of labour, as women are more likely to leave the labour market when they get married and/or have children.

Dr Khattab’s research showed that the Muslim women with higher qualifications were able to remain in work despite getting married and becoming mothers. However, as they have still experienced greater unemployment, this can also be attributed to discrimination in recruiting and hiring practices.

Dr Khattab’s research drew on Next Steps (formerly known as the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England) (2004-2010) and Understanding Society (2009) for his analysis. He also researched the overall rate of unemployment from the Labour Force Survey (2002-2013) in the UK.

His study compared women with similar educational levels who said they spoke English as a first language. Dr Khattab also took into account age, marital status, the strength of the women’s religious beliefs and whether they had dependent children.

Dr Khattab analysed a sample of 2,643 similar women from the Understanding Society surveys to compare the rates of those unable to find work. His research shows that the Muslim women were 71 per cent more likely to be unemployed than white Christian women, even when they had the same educational levels and language skills. The equivalent figure for Hindu women was 57 per cent.

Previous research has concluded that Muslim women in the UK are more likely to be unemployed because they are less well educated and less fluent in English. However, Dr Khattab argues that Muslim women’s high visibility is a key factor in explaining their exclusion from the labour market: “They wear the hijab or other religious symbols which makes them more visible and as such, exposed to greater discrimination.”

The Next Steps information showed whether certain women have different educational and career aspirations than the other faith-based groups. Understanding Society was used to explore factors such as the importance of religion, whether English was a first language and overseas qualifications.

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