New Research from Alessandra Faggian Questions Persistent Employment and Wage Gaps for Highly Educated Young British-Bangladeshi Women

Jan. 9, 2013

     Why do young British-Bangladeshi women fail to lead in labor force participation rates and wages garnered compared to young British-Bangladeshi men even though these women have higher rates of higher education attainment? In the January 2013 issue of Feminist Economics AEDE Associate Professor Alessandra Faggian and her colleagues James Niven and Kanchana N. Ruwanpura question this and provide new research to get to the heart of this issue in the article “Exploring ‘Underachievement’ Among Highly Educated Young British-Bangladeshi Women”.

In looking at this complex issue the researchers highlight major gains in educational attainment levels for British-Bangladeshi women since the 1990s.  However, though these women have progressively excelled in higher education achievement this has not translated into overall success in the UK labor market as data shows that major gaps exist between British-Bangladeshi women and men in success rates in the workforce. In conducting their analysis the researchers seek an answer to this paradox.

The authors conducted their research through a combination of quantitative data analysis and qualitative fieldwork collection and review.

Using data collected by the UK’s Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA) on students who graduated from British higher education institutions in 2006, the researchers combined two different HESA data streams for the quantitative portion of their work. Their final data set included records on 356,008 British graduates, of which 210,622 (59.2 percent) were women and 145,386 (40.8 percent) were men. Of the overall total, they had 2,085 observations on British-Bangladeshi graduates, of which 51.3 percent were women and 48.7 percent were men.

To collect the qualitative data the researchers utilized questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, and participant observation from two colleges in East London and Leeds over a three-month period. By placing a questionnaire online with links to various British-Bangladeshi networking and forum websites and using snowballing methods, the researchers were able to collect a total of 116 questionnaire responses completed by British-Bangladeshi students ages 16 and older who intended to enter or were currently in higher education. The researchers also conducted semi-structured interviews with twenty-one participants who were willing and interested in partaking in the research project and who expressed an interest in continuing onto higher education.

Figure 2 from the article showing the gender difference in starting salary by ethnicity.
In their quantitative assessment the authors found that in 2005 the average difference between graduate men and women’s starting salaries for the British-Bangladeshi community was £4,768 in comparison to £2,916 in the white category.  Additionally, in total, only about 59 percent of young British-Bangladeshi women graduates were employed in the top three occupational categories (managerial, administrative, and professional) compared to 65 percent of young British-Bangladeshi men. Finally, the data also showed that despite having achieved greater academic success than their male peers, British-Bangladeshi women were more likely than their male counterparts to enter part-time, rather than full-time, employment.

In analyzing the results of their qualitative fieldwork the authors found that there is a desire among young British-Bangladeshi women to pursue higher education and to do well in this task. Additionally, the researchers found that there have been positive shifts in thinking in the British-Bangladeshi community in regards to the value of higher education for women. However, the researchers note that though it appears that the British-Bangladeshi community is becoming more open-minded with regard to the education of young women (contributing to the higher levels of women earning college degrees), this transitional process continues to be shadowed by obligations to family and the home, which have contributed to these educated women choosing employment that is not full-time, or in the top educational categories, to enable them to commit more time to family life.

In conducting the analysis, the authors recognize that recent UK government initiatives focused on education have most likely contributed to the higher education attainment rate increases.  However, while government-sponsored programs may hold one piece of the puzzle in explaining the education successes, there is still much work to be done in regards to understanding how the intersections between gender, class, religious, and ethnic dynamics work together to influence a student’s life after their formal education and the subsequent benefit to society.

The authors note, “A seemingly sensible election pledge (such as Tony Blair’s), which constructed education as the indisputable measure of socioeconomic progress glossed over the fact that education is an imperfect step toward better socioeconomic positioning. In this regard, it is a ‘faulty measure’ of socioeconomic advancement when it is not coupled with a successful transition into the labor market. This shift we have shown is affected by a complex mix of historical, societal, political, economic, and cultural factors that make the realization of education’s promises contested and incomplete.”

In the study findings the researchers recommend that while government-focused education initiatives are vital, as well as anti-discriminatory policies in the labor market, to reach success in engaging British-Bangladeshi women to their full potential in the labor market there is a need for more family friendly policies capable of accepting the current limitations faced by these women due to the obligations of family and cultural life. 

To read the full article, please see “Exploring ‘Underachievement’ Among Highly Educated Young British-Bangladeshi Women”on the Feminist Economics website.

January 9, 2013