There are longstanding debates about whether neighbourhood segregation of ethnic minorities promotes minorities’ economic success or whether it constrain opportunities. Here, Carolina V. Zuccotti and Lucinda Platt show that growing up in a neighbourhood with a higher proportion of those from the same ethnic group as you can have both positive and negative consequences: these play out differently for men and women and for groups with different levels of resources
In 2005 the then chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips sparked a heated discussion about the spatial distribution of ethnic minorities in the UK, when he argued that the British society was ‘sleepwalking’ its way towards segregation. Underlying the debate around whether or not spatial segregation of ethnic minorities is increasing or decreasing are assumptions that it matters for minorities’ integration, including their socio-economic integration.
But there are different views on whether greater concentration of minorities is positive or negative for work and occupational success. Some argue that neighbourhood segregation brings benefits in terms of group resources and economic support; others argue that relative isolation can limit access to job opportunities.
Focusing on England and Wales, we used a large scale nationally representative data set, the ONS Longitudinal Study, to assess the effect of neighbourhood composition on the labour market outcomes of the UK’s main ethnic minority groups. This dataset, which follows individuals across five successive Censuses, makes it possible to study the impact of the neighbourhood children grew up on their subsequent labour market outcomes as adults.
Our approach offers important advantages over previous work. First, people’s social environment and social networks during their upbringing are crucial for socialising them into norms and expectations and giving them access to specific social networks. Second, looking at the influence of childhood neighbourhood on adult outcomes helps to address questions of reverse causality, which studies of neighbourhood effects often struggle with. Furthermore, the data enable us to control for neighbourhood deprivation, which we know is likely to have long-term effects on children’s subsequent labour market outcomes. This is particularly relevant given that ethnic minorities tend to be concentrated in deprived areas.
Our findings reveal that greater neighbourhood concentration of people from the same ethnic group results in substantially lower subsequent labour market participation for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women. Conversely, greater concentration of co-ethnics leads to better occupational outcomes for Indian men. Findings for other groups are indeterminate.
These results suggest that rather than own ethnic group concentration being simply positive or simply negative, there may be different consequences of the concentration of one’s own ethnic group for men and for women. Gender role attitudes among Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations tend to be traditional; women in these groups often have low rates of labour force participation. The findings for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women might therefore be linked to the greater exposure of these women to such traditional norms through greater social interaction with others from the same ethnic group in the neighbourhood. The results for Indian men, instead, suggest the positive role that high levels of group resources can play. Group socio-economic resources in the parents’ generation are generally higher for Indians than other minority groups. For Indians, therefore, the neighbourhood might become an arena of social interaction that helps to stimulate and support educational and occupational success.
Asking whether ethnic concentration is positive or negative – which is a frequent question both in research and, especially, political discourse – is, then, the wrong question. Local social interaction with one’s ethnic group can mean different things for different ethnic groups and genders, because of contact with – and internalisation of – different group norms, expectations and opportunities. While it can be argued that spatial segregation reduces social cohesion, in specific cases it may also enhance it by increasing socio-economic integration. Our study concentrated on labour market outcomes; however, the study of other outcomes, such as health, or life satisfaction, might suggest other benefits, or challenges, that greater own group concentration can bring.
The current study is the first to demonstrate a role for co-ethnic concentration in childhood in helping to explain Pakistani and Bangladeshi women’s low labour market participation and Indian men’s occupational success, distinctive employment outcomes that have been highlighted, but not fully explained, in a number of existing studies. Future research could elaborate the pathways we suggest lead from co-ethnic concentration to labour market outcomes.
Please note this blog draws from the article: Zuccotti, C. and Platt, L. 2016, Does Neighbourhood Ethnic Concentration in Early Life Affect Subsequent Labour Market Outcomes? A Study across Ethnic Groups in England and Wales, published by Population Space and Place, DOI: 10.1002/psp.2041.
Carolina V. Zuccotti is Research Fellow at the Brighton Business School, University of Brighton
Lucinda Platt is Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at the Department of Social Policy and CASE, LSE
A study not far removed from the reality we face in the United States and many other countries. The belief that is “takes a village” to move the needle and to make change happen is proven to be true everywhere. Having been involved in community engagement for over a decade and witnessed thousands of residents and leaders in historically marginalized, empoverished minority communities speak to the challenges they face, I am convinced that two critical conditions or principles have to be at the core of any effort to assist poor or minority communities – it ought to be community-led and and universal goals must be the focus. Ethnic minoriries need the support of their peers as their lives and cultures are inherently rooted in the concept of community, their needs are unique and must be attended to, but their existence, aspirations and goals have to be aligned with those of other groups. It is about equitable responses so people feel and are active participants in the process of change. Isolatation can only exacerbate the dire circumstances of these communities, but further division can have equally if not more devastating consequences for all. While a zipcode should not dictate anyone’s life outcomes, the success of a society should not be clouded by the short-sightedness of its leaders nor the divisive approaches to social change. The costs will no doubt be much higher. Empowerment, resources, opportunities and broad collaborations are needed for impact.
Outreach and community “champions” are most certainly needed to identify areas of neglect in our communities – especially at a post BREXIT stage.
However, the national Work Programme has been failing many groups – of all colours and challenges – for a long time now. So, I am surprised that there is a recognised of much smaller proportions rather than the Exposure of a failed Work Programme. Furthermore, the fragmentation of this programme, and its market dominance, has meant that an innovative approach to connecting with such groups has been neglected by the NFP sector.
Thus, why are we surprised of BREXIT? Many may be right to argue we now need to see the skills, talent and voices of these groups harnessed towards the development of new local policies and the support they need. With vast grant funding out there fro community projects, its clear that there also needs to be influence towards the development of innovation in our community projects aimed at employment-related areas.
Thanks for sharing the findings of this very interesting research. I fully agree your conclusion that, depending on local circumstances at any given point in time the relation between spatial segregation and social cohesion may vary, generally and between particular ethnic groups. Each locality is somewhat distinct along a broad variety of social parameters, and observed over longer period, may demonstrate diverging dynamics and trends between time slots, depending on the influence of many other external socio-economic and inter- and intra-community/intra-neighbourhood factors. I would love to see similar studies based on as representative database as yours with regards to correlation between ethnic concentration and radicalism, particularly religion inspired extremism. More we learn about communities better we are prepared to face the challenges posed to society in general.