UK income inequality by ethnicity: data from the ONS

This article in the Guardian summarises a new set of data from the Office of National Statistics.

Here’s the key table on income inequality (based on median hourly income).

Main takeaways:

  • Workers of White Irish, Chinese and Indian ethnicity on average earn significantly more than White British. (This gap gets bigger for under 30s – see below).
  • Workers of Pakistani ethnicity have the highest pay gap, followed by White and Black African, Bangladeshi and White and Black Caribbean.

This graph comparing income inequality between workers under 30 and over 30 is also really interesting, suggesting where the UK is heading: for workers under 30, ethnic minority workers earn 5.5% more (described as a negative pay gap of 5.5%) than their White British counterparts.

Here’s a breakdown by ethnicity:

A few other bits of nuance

  • These gaps vary by UK region – there’s a 23.8% income gap in London, but a negative 8.3% gap in the East.
  • Whether or not a person was born in the UK has a significant difference on their income: most UK-born people earn more (so the gaps narrow, or negative gaps get bigger), with the exception of Irish and Chinese-born first generation arrivals.
  • There’s a great table about likelihood of a worker having a degree, by ethnicity (Chinese at the top, Caribbean and White British at the bottom).

Conclusions and Questions

  • This data points to encouraging improvements in income equality between ethnic groups (at a little over 2%, the gap is the smallest it’s ever been).
  • But the aggregate data masks some big inequalities, with several ethnic minorities earning significantly more than others. Is this “positive” inequality for some ethnic groups a problem?
  • I wonder if separating out “White Irish” and “White British” means much to anyone (presumably it meant something to someone once!) – combining these groups would widen the gap.
  • It’s worth remembering that this data is only for people in employment – it doesn’t capture other forms of disadvantage, especially for people out of work.
  • I worry about the future for everyone at the bottom of income distribution, but particularly for kids (and especially boys) from low-income White British backgrounds, who have had the lowest academic attainment at GCSE for more than a decade, and made little improvement compared to other groups.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...