Report finds that young Muslims are less likely to succeed in the labour market than any other faith group.

Young Muslims living in the UK face an enormous social mobility challenge and are being held back from reaching their full potential at every stage of their lives, a report by the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) has found.

The report uncovers significant barriers to improved social mobility for young Muslims from school through university and into the workplace - with many reporting experience of Islamophobia, discrimination and racism.

Previous analysis by the Social Mobility Commission, an independent advisory body, found that young people from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds are more likely than ever to succeed in education and go on to university than other groups - particularly girls.

Despite their successes, however, this did not translate into the labour market and Muslims experience the greatest economic disadvantages of any faith group in UK society.

Based on in-depth focus groups and interviews conducted by a team of academics led by Sheffield Hallam University, the new research explores the attitudes and reasons behind this broken ‘social mobility promise’ by examining young Muslims’ perceptions and experiences of growing up and seeking work in Britain.

Within the economically active population (age 16 to 74 years) only 1 in 5 (19.8%) of the Muslim population is in full-time employment, compared to more than 1 in 3 (34.9%) of the overall population (in England and Wales).

Muslim women in the UK are more likely than all other women to be economically inactive with 18% of Muslim women aged 16 to 74 recorded as “looking after home and family” compared with 6% in the overall population.

Only 6% of Muslims are in ‘higher managerial, administrative and professional occupations’ compared to 10% of the overall population. They also have slightly lower levels of qualifications, with approximately a quarter of Muslims over the age of 16 having ‘level 4 and above’ (degree-level and above) qualifications (The Muslim Council of Britain, 2015).

Moreover, nearly half of the Muslim population (46%) live in the 10% of the most deprived local authority districts. This has implications for access to resources, school attainment, progression to higher education and the availability of jobs, including those at postgraduate or managerial levels. These inequalities vary by region, with the Midlands experiencing the largest margin of inequality and the South the smallest.

The body of the report’s findings, however, is based on the views of young Muslims themselves expressed through structured and in-depth focus groups.

Participants expressed a strong sense of work ethic, high resilience and a desire to succeed in school and beyond. But many felt they must work ‘ten times as hard’ as non-Muslims just to get the same opportunities due to cultural differences and various forms of discrimination.

The young Muslims who were interviewed reported that teachers often had stereotypical or low expectations of them. They argued there are insufficient Muslim teachers or other role models in schools and they are given insufficient or inadequate individual tailored support, guidance and encouragement at school. The services available to them were not enough to fill a parental gap particularly if parents were educated in a different system, were less able to support them in their studies or lacked the capital, knowledge or access to social networks to help their children make informed choices.

Some said they avoided asking for help for fear they will be targets for bullying and or harassment. This then impacted on confidence which they said resulted in some young Muslims ‘giving up’.

In higher education, young Muslims are more likely to drop out early or to gain fewer ‘good degrees’ (1st or 2:1s) than their non-Muslim peers. Interviewees felt their choices were more constrained because of inequitable access to high status universities (often because of geography), discrimination at the point of entry or self-limiting choices for fear of being in a minority.

The research finds that young Muslims feel their transition into the labour market is then hampered by discrimination in the recruitment process. Some interviewees reported that discrimination could take place due to applicants with ethnic-sounding names being less likely to get interviews with some employers.

Once in work, young Muslims in the focus groups said that racism, discrimination and lack of cultural awareness in the workplace had impacted on their career development and progression. Some reported feeling obliged to defend their faith with workplace colleagues in the face of negative discourses in the media.

Muslim women in the focus groups also felt that wearing the headscarf at work was an additional visual marker of difference that was perceived and experienced as leading to further discrimination.

The research suggested that many of these issues were worse for women. The report finds that within some communities, young Muslims felt that parents held high but different expectations for boys and girls concerning their educational and employment outcomes, with boys seen to be afforded more freedom. There was also an explicit recognition that within some communities, women are encouraged to focus on marriage and motherhood rather than gain employment. In particular, it was acknowledged that more traditional views of girls’ roles were sometimes reinforced by teachers within private Islamic schools.

Overall the research suggests that young Muslims feel a real challenge in maintaining their identity while seeking to succeed in Britain. They felt worried about being different and unsure about whether getting on was compatible with their identity as Muslims. Some responded by asserting their Muslim identity, although in some cases this constrained the career choices they made. Others felt there was a pressure to hide their Muslim identity and so avoid the issue that way.

Alan Milburn100x100The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said:

The British social mobility promise is that hard work will be rewarded. Unfortunately, for many young Muslims in Britain today this promise is being broken.

This report paints a disturbing picture of the challenges they face to making greater social progress. Young Muslims themselves identify cultural barriers in their communities and discrimination in the education system and labour market as some of the principal obstacles that stand in their way. Young Muslim women face a specific challenge to maintain their identity while seeking to succeed in modern Britain.

These are complex issues and it is vital they are the subject of mature consideration and debate. It is particularly important to hear from young people from the Muslim community and respond positively to them.

There are no easy or straightforward solutions to the issues they have raised. But a truly inclusive society depends on creating a level playing field of opportunity for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background. That will require renewed action by government and communities, just as it will by educators and employers.

Professor Jacqueline Stevenson, from Sheffield Hallam University, who led the research, said:

Muslims are excluded, discriminated against, or failed, at all stages of their transition from education to employment. Taken together, these contributory factors have profound implications for social mobility.

Young Muslims in the UK come from a wide range of backgrounds and life situations. Muslims from low socio-economic backgrounds lack sufficient resources and support to enable them to reach their potential. This is exacerbated by their parents’ experiences of higher levels of underemployment and unemployment, particularly where their qualifications were not recognised in the UK.

The report makes several key recommendations. These include:

  • mentoring and other support programmes for young (school aged) Muslims should be established to include sessions or provision for parents to ensure they are provided with support and information about post-16 choices
  • the Department for Education should put in place a careers strategy that promotes informed and inclusive choices by pupils, free from stereotypical assumptions. These should be piloted in areas with high rates of unemployment for people from Muslim communities and include routes for involving parents in understanding these choices
  • teacher training should include sophisticated and practical diversity training with a focus on religious diversity
  • business bodies should promote greater awareness and take-up of good unconscious bias, diversity, religious literacy and cultural competence training by employers

You may also be interested in these articles:

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page