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All ethnic minority outcome differences cannot be blamed on discrimination

I took part in a one-hour TV discussion of a government report showing significant differences in outcomes between ethnic minority groups in the UK.


Posted 5 December 2017. TV programme transmitted 24 October 2017. Appendix added 11 December 2017.

The various arms of the UK government hold very large amounts of data on Britain’s population. Using these existing data sources, in October 2017 the government created a website of “Ethnicity facts and figures”. The government intends to keep the data on the website updated as time passes so that trends can be seen.

To go with the launch of the website, the government also published a report “Race Disparity Audit: Summary Findings from the Ethnicity Facts and Figures Website.”

I congratulate the government on doing this. Information is always essential for good decision making. See for example my article “In Praise of Ethnic Monitoring.”  

Some key findings

I strongly recommend reading the summary report which is only 60 pages. I have picked out a few snippets below:

Preparation for television programme

On 24 October 2017 the Bangladeshi channel, Channel S, included me in a one-hour programme to discuss the race disparity audit.

When appearing in the media, you must be clear about your key messages. I decided mine were:

Measured differences are often due to different starting conditions

The community I know best are Britons of Pakistani origin, being one myself.

Most of this community arrived from Pakistan, from poor rural backgrounds, as did my parents. Accordingly, in any initial measurement of racial disparities, my parents would figure at the bottom end of the income and education spectrum. However their son went to Cambridge University.

Looking at my income, even after I had graduated from Cambridge, in my first job (a first-year state school teacher) my income was relatively low. Conversely, towards the end of my career, my income as a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers put me in the top 1% of income earners. Accordingly, my position on the income spectrum differed enormously depending on when you measured it.

The same point applies to British Pakistanis as a whole. Regardless of how relatively poor they may be today, they were relatively much poorer when they first came to the UK.

The Race Disparity Audit is only a snapshot at one point in time. Publishing the data regularly will show how the disparities change over time. I would expect them to narrow, hopefully rapidly.

Some differences arise from the choices that individuals make

People’s behaviour directly affects their income. On average, a family with two working spouses is likely to have a total family income which is higher than a family in which only one spouse (normally the husband) works while the other spouse is economically inactive.

There are clear differences between ethnic groups in the proportion of married women who have paid jobs. It is no surprise that these behavioural differences are reflected in differences in family income.

Similarly, some ethnic groups marry predominantly within the United Kingdom. Meanwhile other ethnic groups have a high proportion of transcontinental marriages, where the UK resident spouse marries someone from overseas who then comes to live in the UK.

Such an imported spouse is likely initially to have greater difficulty finding gainful employment in the UK than someone who grew up in the UK and has been educated here.

Such behavioural differences are likely to result in differences in family income, and in the educational performance of the family’s children.

Discrimination is real

As someone who has lived in the UK since the early 1950’s, I am aware that racial discrimination exists in the UK and adversely affects the life chances of ethnic minority Britons.

At the same time, I am also aware that over the decades racial discrimination has declined steadily due to a combination of social change and government legislation making many kinds of discrimination unlawful.

Overall, for all ethnic minority outcome differences, my approach is to first look for alternative explanations for the differences (such as differences in starting conditions and individual behaviours). If these explanations are unable to account for the outcome difference, then discrimination may well be at play.

However, many people have the opposite approach and cite discrimination as the universal explanation for all ethnic minority outcome differences.

The television programme

The presenter was Imam Ajmal Masroor and the participants were:

Channel S has put a video of the full programme (albeit losing the first few minutes) onto Facebook. As far as I am aware, Facebook videos cannot be embedded on website pages. However you can watch the video at this link.

Appendix: More detailed data on racial differences in education

Watching the full TV programme will show that the presenter, Ajmal Masroor, appears to believe that all racial outcome differences are due to discrimination.

He ignores the fact that Chinese and Indian school pupils significantly outperform white Britons. Obviously he cannot contend that the UK education system discriminates in favour of Indians and Chinese and against white Britons.

I recommend reading the June 2015 report "Ethnicity, deprivation and educational achievement at age 16 in England: trends over time" published by the Department for Education. This shows that, adjusted for socio-economic differences, all ethnic minorities outperform white Britons.

As it says on page 10:

Studies that use regressions methods to control for socio-economic status (SES) suggest almost all ethnic minority groups achieve higher exam success at age 16 than White British students of the same SES.


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