Home | Research Themes | Employment


Workers in an open plan office

Employment is a crucial sphere of life which provides access to financial and social resources important for the quality of life and well-being of individuals and their families. However, access to employment, and to high-quality jobs, is often unequally distributed across different groups and geographical areas. 

Our research will seek to explore employment inequalities across a number of factors, including family employment patterns and child care take-up and the impact on child outcomes, as well as the impact of the family environment on labour market and educational outcomes. We will also look at the impact of neighbourhood context on labour market outcomes; specifically we will focus on employment trajectories across ethnic groups, and whether or not these are affected differently by neighbourhood context.

Our current research projects on employment inequalities are listed below. These link closely with our research on Socio-Economic, Ethnicity, SpatialWell-being, Gender and Age inequalities


Research Papers

Inequality in housing wealth has risen spectacularly in England & Wales


  • Housing wealth is the value of housing assets held by an individual. For many households, this is by far their largest source of wealth.
  • The growth in homeownership during the 1980s and 1990s and rapid increases in house prices in some parts of the UK, led to concerns that a gulf was emerging in housing wealth.


Inequality in housing wealth has risen spectacularly in England & Wales


  • Housing wealth is the value of housing assets held by an individual. For many households, this is by far their largest source of wealth.
  • The growth in homeownership during the 1980s and 1990s and rapid increases in house prices in some parts of the UK, led to concerns that a gulf was emerging in housing wealth.


Urban poverty shifting out to the suburbs could further increase inequalities


  • Historically, poverty in the UK has been concentrated near town and city centres.
  • This has had pros and cons for poor households:
    • On the one hand, it means they are closer to public services, amenities and employment opportunities, which tend to be located in urban centres, though they do not always benefit from these.
    • On the other hand, they are more exposed to crime, noise and air pollution, which also tend to be concentrated near urban centres.
  • There is evidence across a range of countries including Scotland (Kavanagh et al. 2016, forthcoming) that urban poverty is decentralising – moving from the inner city to the periphery.


Different degrees of career success: social origin and graduates’ education and labour market trajectories

Most research on social inequalities in higher education (HE) graduates’ labour market outcomes has analysed outcomes at one or two points in time, thus providing only snapshots of graduates’ occupational destinations. This study contributes to the existing literature by examining the education and labour market trajectories of degree holders across their life course and how these trajectories vary by social class of origin. Using data from the 1970 British Cohort Study, we assess the degree of social inequalities in the chance of following more or less advantaged pathways from age 16 up to the age of 42 and the extent to which these inequalities are explained by differences in higher education experiences. Three main questions are addressed in this study:

  1. What are the typical education and labour market pathways followed by HE graduates?
  2. How do these pathways vary by parental social class? 
  3. Do differences in graduates’ HE experiences (i.e. age of graduation, the field of study and institution attended, degree class achieved and postgraduate studies) explain class-of-origin differences?


Maternal employment and the well-being of children living with a lone mother in Scotland

Previous research has shown that children who do not live with both of their parents fare worse on a variety of outcomes. However, less is known about the heterogeneity of children’s socioeconomic context and the factors that contribute to the negative effect of family structure. The study enhances understanding by regarding maternal employment as a differentiating element in children’s levels of socioemotional well-being. It also recognizes that not all types of employment act in the same way, and seeks to shed light on some of the mechanisms through which maternal employment operates on children’s well-being.

It addresses the following research questions:

1) Is maternal employment beneficial to the socioemotional well-being of children living with a lone mother?

2) Does the relationship between maternal employment and child well-being vary depending on the mother’s number of hours worked, or occupational status?

3) To what extent is the relationship between maternal employment and children’s well-being mediated by household income and by maternal psychological wellbeing?

Social inequalities in occupational outcomes: using sibling data to estimate the effect of family of origin and the role of education

Iannelli, C., Breen, R. and Duta A.

Building on our previous work ‘Social inequalities in attaining higher education in Scotland: New evidence from sibling data’, this research uses the Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS) sibling data to investigate social inequalities in occupational outcomes.

The study focuses on the following research questions: (1) What is the overall effect of family of origin on children’s occupational status? (2) Does the importance of family effect differ by social class of origin and by other family characteristics? (3) How much of the total variance between families is explained by parental social class, parental education and other family-level characteristics? (4) To what extent do educational qualifications explain between- family and within-family differences in siblings’ occupational outcomes?

The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for policy in relation to children and young people: a research review

Smyth and fellow collaborators at ESRI, Dublin.

Research questions: 

How has COVID-19 impacted on the lives of children and young people in terms of their family and peer relationships; formal and informal learning; physical and mental health and wellbeing; and transitions to further/higher education, training and the youth labour market?

Type(s) of inequality and how inequality is defined:

Inequality is defined as the differences in social class, education and/or household income across groups of children, young people and families.

Approach or method used:

What are the effects of changing neighbourhood poverty on labour market outcomes?

Since the turn of the century, there has been a rise in Scottish nationalist sentiment but unusually this has not been associated with a rise in anti-immigration parties such as UKIP. Indeed, one of the themes of the Scottish Independence debate was how Scotland has a fundamentally more open and tolerant approach to immigration than England. Scotland did not experience the rise of anti-immigration attitudes seen south of the Border, particularly in the lead up to and the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. This raises an interesting question about whether migrants and ethnic minorities more generally in Scotland benefit in substantive ways from the greater ambient tolerance north of the border.

Growing up with a lone mother in Scotland: the role of employment, childcare and family ties on children’s wellbeing

Increasing scholarly attention has focused on the link between family demography and inequalities, and its implications for children’s life courses. Children born from more disadvantaged families are more likely to experience family changes and structures that are associated with a loss of resources, such as their parents’ early and non-marital family formation, union instability and weaker labour market attachment. These experiences have important repercussions on children’s well-being and chances in life.

Mothers’ employment patterns and child behaviour: Comparing Scotland and Germany

The number of working women has markedly increased in recent decades. In this process, many debates have focused on how the children of working mothers fare in terms of well-being and development: On the one hand, maternal employment may negatively impact children because employed mothers have less time to spend with their child and they may be more stressed than non-employed mothers. On the other hand, increased family income and satisfaction derived from work may have positive effects on children. Maternal employment is socially stratified. Working in low-skilled occupation or stressful working conditions is more likely to be experienced by women in less favourable life conditions, particularly, low educated mothers. If these working conditions negatively affect child outcomes, then social inequalities are likely to accumulate. Therefore, studying the impact of maternal employment on child outcomes may shed light on processes of cumulative disadvantage in the early life course.
The key research questions are:
•    Does maternal employment affect the socio-emotional wellbeing of children growing up with a lone mother?

Our other areas of research

Illustration of the coronavirus in red on a black background


Mother and son holding hands


Car window smashed by car thief


People with hands raised in lecture


Industrial Chimneys with smoke raising


Students chatting in the library


chalk drawing of male and female on balance scales


New houses being built in a new development


Criminal with handcuffs behind back


Dad with two children walking hand in hand to the bus stop


Block of high rise flats


Sad boy sitting on a bark bench