South Asian women and employment

Funded by: Nuffield


June 1999 to December 2012

PSI researchers:

Background, summary and aims


Relatively little is understood about the determinants of labour market participation amongst South Asian women in Britain and less about why there is so much variation across ethnic group. This study uses PSI's Fourth Survey of Ethnic Minorities and new qualitative interviews with sixty South Asian women to shed light on these issues.

Study design

The study has both quantitative and qualitative elements.

There is an econometric analysis of the determinants of labour market participation amongst South Asian women in Britain, using the Fourth Survey. This analysis begins by establishing the extent to which factors associated with labour market participation amongst British women as a whole are able to explain participation amongst South Asian women. Thus, the analysis investigates the impact of variables such as age, educational attainment, marital status (including economic activity of partner), number and age of dependent children, household tenure and region. The role of other variables available in the Fourth Survey which are of particular relevance for South Asian women is then explored -- this involves looking at factors such as religion, country of birth and the presence of parents in the household. As well as explaining labour market participation, the analysis also seeks to explain why the participation rates of Indian and African Asian women are higher than those of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women.

The qualitative analysis is of sixty in-depth interviews with South Asian women living in London. The sample was selected to provide adequate representation of women from different agegroups, religions and ethnic backgrounds. The results from the quantitative analyses were used to inform the interview schedule for this part of the study. Identifying the determinants of labour market participation is also the primary focus of the qualitative analysis, with particular emphasis being placed on exploring cultural factors about which there is relatively little information in the quantitative survey.


The study analyses an under-researched issue and will provide findings important for those seeking to develop and implement equal opportunities policies.