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Katy Jones
Katy  Jones

How do gender and ethnicity shape young people’s labour market experiences?

Authors: Katy Jones Katy Jones

12 November 2013

Youth unemployment in the UK remains at crisis levels. With almost one million 16-24 year olds unemployed, this often means a personal crisis for the individuals involved, but also brings with it huge economic and social cost (estimated to be around £28 billion).

But young people’s experiences in the labour market are not uniform: they vary considerably according to a range of factors, including demographic characteristics, qualification levels and the state of the local jobs market. Our new report for the TUC – The Gender Jobs Split – investigates how young people’s labour market experiences differ by gender. As part of this study we also looked at how gender interacts with other characteristics including ethnicity. Whilst small sample sizes mean we cannot draw any firm conclusions, our analysis suggests that the experiences of young men and women from different ethnic backgrounds differ significantly in today’s labour market.

Overall our report found significant gender divisions in the types of jobs young men and women work in, with young women, for example, dominating employment in personal service and sales occupations whilst young men predominantly working in skilled trades. This varies significantly across ethnic groups. In particular, work in skilled manual work appears to be a no-go area for non-White young men, but young White people (especially young White women) are more likely to work in elementary (unskilled) jobs. ‘Non-white’ (combined to improve sample sizes) young men and women are just as likely to be in higher skilled work.

The employment status of young men and women also varies considerably for different ethnic groups. Young White men and women are the most likely to be in employment compared to any other ethnic group. In contrast several groups (including Black young men) have very high unemployment rates. This is mostly due to higher levels of inactivity, in part suggesting that they are much further from the labour market than their White peers.

What’s driving these differences?

There is a limited body of research looking specifically at the labour market experiences of young men and women from different ethnic backgrounds. But there is some evidence to suggest that they are in part driven by differences in educational attainment, cultural factors and, in some cases, discrimination. For example, previous research has found poorly qualified young women from Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and Pakistani groups to be particularly disadvantaged, facing low pay, discrimination, and negative attitudes from employers. Particularly striking is that young people from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to stay on in education, yet have worse labour market outcomes. 

In our report we suggest a number of ways to tackle these issues including: using procurement to create more opportunities for young people, providing tailored support which both recognises and challenges the barriers faced by some groups of young people, better careers advice, and support for young people in their first few years of employment, instead of just focusing on getting them into any job.

Young people’s early labour market experiences have a profound effect on future life chances. Whilst small sample sizes mean that we should be cautious when drawing conclusions, our analysis and other research clearly indicate that these early experiences are influenced significantly by factors such as ethnicity. Without a better understanding of how young people’s pathways into the labour market and experiences of employment differ by ethnicity, policy may not be well focused to help young people in a difficult labour market.