EuropeThe Economist

Not black and white – Why second-generation migrants in Britain report more discrimination | Britain

FEW SUBJECTS are more chewed over in Britain than migration and race. The country will finally leave the European Union (EU) next week, a policy supported by many voters to reduce, or gain control over, immigration flows. Its former prime minister, Theresa May, will be remembered in part for her shoddy treatment of the Windrush generation of Caribbean migrants who were asked to prove their citizenship decades after making Britain their home. And Meghan Markle’s decision to leave has prompted introspection in some quarters and defensiveness in others.

On January 20th Oxford University’s Migration Observatory added some rare crunch to the discussion, with an analysis of data from the European Social Survey. Marina Fernandez-Reino, a researcher, found that migrants were slightly less likely to say they had been discriminated against in Britain than the average reported by their peers in 14 other European countries. But their children were much more likely to feel such discrimination: 32% of second-generation migrants encountered it, compared with 16% of their parents. The same pattern holds in other countries, but the disparity is much greater in Britain.

It is possible that ethnic minorities do indeed face higher rates of discrimination in Britain than elsewhere. An experiment by the academics Valentina Di Stasio and Anthony Heath, published last year, found that fictitious job-seekers with minority backgrounds had to apply for 60% more jobs to get the same number of interviews as Britons with names not traditionally associated with minorities. Researchers found a similar pattern in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, too, but in each case the discrepancy between the two groups was smaller than in Britain. “Discrimination in Britain is remarkably high,” says Ms Di Stasio, of Utrecht University. She says Britain ought to perform better than its neighbours since it has a long history of mass migration and a relatively flexible labour market, which might be expected to reduce the disincentive for employers to take a perceived hiring risk. For half a century, studies have found similar prejudice against potential employees with Pakistani or Caribbean roots.

Yet other evidence suggests minorities fare better in Britain than elsewhere in Europe. For instance, about 20% of Britain’s black population report racial harassment in the past five years, the second-lowest rate of 12 EU countries surveyed in 2016. That figure was 32% in France and 48% in Germany. The same report found a smaller disparity in labour-market participation rates than in most other countries.

An alternative explanation is that second-generation migrants may be more aware of their rights in Britain. Omar Khan of Runnymede Trust, a racial-equality think-tank, reckons Britain’s relatively large ethnic minority population brings such issues to the forefront. “There are more people within your in-group who are willing and able to talk about it,” he says.

A paper by Conrad Ziller in 2014 found an association between the strength of a country’s anti-discrimination policies and its citizens’ knowledge of their rights. Sweden was the only European country to rank higher than Britain on both measures. Britain has had anti-racism laws since the 1960s, which are also tougher than elsewhere. “In some countries ethnicity and race are less discussed and people are less aware of [the issues],” says Ms Fernandez-Reino. In Britain “you might be more likely to see inequalities through the lens of discrimination.” Thus the debate generated by Ms Markle’s exit may itself generate greater awareness of future discrimination.

It is also possible that migrants’ children have higher expectations of their success in Britain than their peers elsewhere. Nine-tenths of British migrants believe they can “get ahead if they work hard”, which could lead to a painful gap between expectations and reality. But even if disillusion is more the result of perception than of reality, it may be impacting migrants’ choices. Britain used to be the preferred destination in Europe for those thinking of moving country, but now it has dropped behind Germany and France.

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Why second-generation migrants in Britain report more discrimination”

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