A multifaceted view of the Muslim penalty in Britain
: investigating differences in job quantity and job quality using survey data analysis

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


With a particular focus on the experience of Muslims, this study challenges previous conceptions and findings to offer a fresh theorisation and account of religious and ethno-religious labour market inequalities in Britain. Existing research largely focuses on the inequality experienced by Muslims in terms of labour market participation, occupational attainment, and earnings differentials. While this scholarship offers important insights into the different ways that Muslims and other ethno-religious minorities are disadvantaged in the world of work, two key lacunae stand out. First, despite Muslims being problematised in the literature because of their faith, empirical scholarship has not actually properly connected with religiosity and so-called ‘sociocultural’ attitudes, such as traditionalist views and supposed ‘isolationist tendencies’. Second, studies have overwhelmingly focused on differences in access to work – i.e. job quantity – ignoring inequalities in work – i.e. job quality. While there are a number of useful contributions on differences in earnings, these are necessarily partial in their focus on remuneration, and therefore offer a narrow view of inequalities of people in work. To address these lacunae, this thesis uses a range of advanced quantitative methods, including multilevel modelling, to exploit Understanding Society data – the largest panel study of its kind worldwide – to provide a comprehensive understanding of the experience of Muslims and on religious stratification in the British labour market more broadly.

The thesis makes four major contributions. From a methodological perspective it advances a novel multidimensional conceptualisation of job quality and offers researchers a ready-made empirical job quality index that is easily reproducible, statistically robust, and suitable for analysing a multicultural workforce. Second, the study deepens our understanding of the Muslim penalty in job quantity from two perspectives. By analysing a greater range of ethnic groups it suggests that beyond colour and religion, the Muslim penalty might also be moderated by a person’s country of origin. Moreover, by finding that considerable penalties remain for Muslims even after adjusting for so-called ‘sociocultural attitudes’, it challenges the assumption that value orientations offer a suitable explanation for the Muslim penalty. Third, the study unites two hitherto separate fields, job quality and ethnic penalty research. In doing so, my study reveals, for the first time, the extent to which variances in job quality are differentiated by religious and ethno-religious affiliation. It reveals that religious minority groups likely benefit to a lesser extent than their Christian White British peers when occupying superior quality jobs, and experience relatively lower job quality still when in poor quality occupations. The study shows that it is generally Muslim women and Sikh men who are most disadvantaged, on average, and that their penalty cannot be explained by individual or work characteristics. As a result, my study extends the ethnic penalties scholarship by offering a more rounded view of the nature and extent of the Muslim penalty beyond the confines of job quantity. My research also brings to light the surprising finding that certain ethno-religious groups traditionally understood as disadvantaged from a job quantity perspective, such as Christian Black African and Christian Black Caribbean men, and others typically considered advantaged, such as Chinese people, might in fact be advantaged/disadvantaged from a job quality standpoint. Fourthly, and finally, the thesis makes an important contribution by advancing company- and societal-level solutions to attenuate the Muslim penalty and other religious inequalities and build a more inclusive society.
Date of Award21 Mar 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorSiobhan McAndrew (Supervisor) & Saffron I Karlsen (Supervisor)

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