Ethnic minorities more likely to be unemployed because employers reject applications from ‘non-white’ names

Ethnic minorities are more likely to be out of work because employers are rejecting job applications from people whose names suggest they are non-white, a new study says.

Researchers found that for some minorities in Britain there was a strong link between their rate of employment and the level of job application rejections, while other minorities had managed to overcome discrimination.

The researchers, Dr Wouter Zwysen, of the European Trade Union Institute and affiliated with the University of Essex, Dr Valentina Di Stasio, Utrecht University, and Professor Anthony Heath, University of Oxford, analysed previous studies on discrimination against job applicants.

They looked at research in which fake applications were sent out for jobs from people with the same level of qualifications and experience who had names suggesting they were either white British or from an ethnic minority. Those from ethnic minorities were less than half as likely to be invited for interview.

In the first study of its kind, the three researchers correlated these findings with the rate of employment among ethnic groups to see how important prejudice against names was as an explanation for their disadvantage.

With people of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, black African, black Caribbean, and Middle East and North Africa ethnicity, the link was clear. They were less than half as likely to be invited for a job interview as people with surnames suggesting they were white British, and their employment rate was similarly less than half that of white British.  

However, people of Chinese and Indian ethnicity, although they were also less than half as likely to be invited for interview, had an employment rate much closer to white British people. The researchers suggest that they can overcome prejudice among employers because they have stronger social networks.

“All ethnic minority groups are substantially less likely than the white British to receive a positive call-back when applying for a job,” say the researchers, writing in the journal Sociology, published by the British Sociological Association. 

“We show a sizeable positive relation between the degree of ethnic discrimination recorded in field experiments and the overall disadvantage faced by ethnic minorities on the labour market. This strongly suggests that ethnic penalties reflect hiring discrimination, and generally groups that experience worse hiring discrimination also have higher ethnic penalties in employment. 

“However, while there are no discernible differences in hiring discrimination between the groups, the ethnic penalties do differ substantially. Most notably, Chinese and Indian minorities fare better than black African, black Caribbean and Pakistani or Bangladeshi minorities with respect to ethnic penalties, despite their very similar risks of hiring discrimination. 

“We propose that some of the better-performing ethnic groups might have access to more resourceful social networks that can help in finding jobs through other channels than responding directly to vacancies.” 

The researchers also found that highly qualified applicants, while still discriminated against, were more resistant to prejudice and able to find appropriate work, while those with middle and lower qualifications faced more struggle in finding appropriate jobs. 

For more information, please contact:  

Tony Trueman
British Sociological Association
Tel: 07964 023392


  1. The researchers looked at two studies, one funded by the Department of Work and Pensions in 2008 and 2009 and published by NatCen, and the other funded by Horizon2020 and conducted in 2016 and 2017 in five European countries including the UK.

In the first, fictitious applications were sent to vacancies in large diverse cities. The experiment covered nine different occupations: IT support, accounts clerk, sales assistant, office assistant, care assistant, IT technician, accountant, HR manager, and teaching assistant. Three applications, two from a randomly varied ethnic minority group and one from the majority, were sent to each of 987 vacancies. They signalled ethnicity through names typical of white British, Pakistani and Bangladeshi; black African; black Caribbean; Indian and Chinese adults. All had British nationality.  

In the second study, only one application was sent to each employer. Applicants varied by their ethnicity as well as by other randomly varying characteristics. Vacancies were sampled from an online job portal and covered six occupations: cook, store assistant, receptionist, payroll clerk, sales representative and software developer. Ethnicity was signalled by the name of the applicant as well as by mother tongue and were: white British, Pakistani and Bangladeshi, Black African, Eastern European, Western European and the US, Middle Eastern and North African, remaining Asian countries, Caribbean and South American. All were British citizens. 

In both studies, the likelihood of an ethnic minority applicant getting an interview was expressed as an odds ratio compared to the likelihood of a white British applicant getting one. These odds ratios varied from around one-third to two-fifths. This means the probability of getting called back is substantially lower for ethnic minorities than for otherwise identical white British. 

The researchers also expressed as an odds ratio the rate of employment of ethnic minority people compared to white British people. This was done after adjusting the statistics to compare people of similar age, qualifications, and other factors. The odds ratios were around one-third to two-fifths for most ethnic minorities, but were seven-tenths for people of Chinese and Indian ethnicity. This means the difference in actual employment is much lower than would be suggested by their degree of being discriminated against. 

  1. The paper is entitled ‘Ethnic penalties and hiring discrimination: comparing results from observational studies with field experiments in the UK’, published online in Sociology, one of the journals run by the British Sociological Association and SAGE.
  2. The British Sociological Association’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. The BSA is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235

For more information, please contact:  

Tony Trueman
British Sociological Association
Tel: 07964 023392