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PhD journey – Social and spatial inequalities among ethnic minorities in England and Wales

Author: Carolina Zuccotti
Institution: University of Brighton (European University Institute at the time of study)
Type of case study: Research

About the research

Carolina Zuccotti was awarded her PhD by the European University Institute. We asked Carolina to describe her PhD journey: from the focus of her thesis to her research objectives for the future.


What did your research focus on and what were your findings?

The study, conducted as part of my PhD at the European University Institute, explored the production and reproduction of social and spatial inequalities among ethnic minorities in England and Wales. More specifically, this study has looked at:

  • social mobility of ethnic minorities and the role that social origins play in explaining ‘ethnic penalties’;
  • the impact of having been raised in a neighbourhood with a high share of co-ethnics on labour market outcomes in later life (neighbourhood effects);
  • the patterns of residential mobility among ethnic minorities and whether and/or under which circumstances they are able to move to whiter areas as the white British do (a test of the spatial assimilation theory);
  • the evolution of spatial segregation of ethnic minorities between 2001 and 2011.

My research shows that ‘ethnic penalties’ in the labour market are, partly or totally, penalties related to the socio-economic origins of ethnic minorities, usually less advantaged compared to the white British population. The findings suggest that researchers in migration might overestimate the ‘ethnic gap’ if social origins are not considered. A second crucial finding is that the geographical space is a source of production and reproduction of ethnic inequalities. Three outcomes support this finding. 

First, I found evidence of ethnic enclave and place stratification: most ethnic minorities, but particularly individuals with lower educational and occupational attainments, are less likely to experience improvements in the deprivation levels in the neighbourhood in which they were raised and to see an increase in the share of non-white population.

Second, I found evidence of neighbourhood effects: having been raised in areas with a high share of co-ethnics has a negative effect on the labour market outcomes of some groups, mainly Pakistani and Bangladeshi.

Third, I found evidence of increasing spatial segregation: between 2001 and 2011, non-white populations, and in particular Pakistani populations, increased their spatial clustering and their likelihood of sharing the space with other co-ethnics.


What made you choose this particular topic?

My interest for social inequality levels in neighbourhoods has developed during the early years of my research career. I studied sociology at the University of Buenos Aires and then I obtained two masters qualifications: one in urban studies at the University of Milano-Bicocca and the second one in human geography at the University of Amsterdam.

This research is interdisciplinary and combines topics from the sociology field, such as social inequality, migration and ethnicity, but also from the human geography and urban studies fields.


What data did you analyse? Why did you choose these data?

I chose to focus my research on population in the UK because of the high-quality and large datasets available both at the individual and neighbourhood levels, and because of the possibility of studying various ethnic groups at the same time.

The study was based on data from the ONS Longitudinal Study and on UK Census aggregate data from 1971 to 2011. In particular, I chose to analyse data from the ONS Longitudinal Study because it enabled me to combine neighbourhood information with information on individuals, including their ethnic and social backgrounds. Although I knew that I could link neighbourhood data to individuals, it was only when I started working in on it that I realized the potential of this link – and this led me to new research questions and a new chapter in my thesis.

More specifically, for the study of social mobility, neighbourhood effects and residential mobility, the analysis was based on the ONS Longitudinal Study, to which I have attached household and neighbourhood information (from aggregated Census data at the Ward level). Young individuals (0-15) were selected in 1971, 1981 and 1991, and their outcomes were studied in 2001 and 2011. Most of these were individuals born in the UK, making it a study centred on second-generation ethnic minorities.

For the analysis of spatial segregation of ethnic minorities, I have only used aggregated census data (2001-2011) at the Lower level Super Output Area (LSOA) level, a geographical unit that has an average of 1500 individuals. The analysis was based on the study of various segregation indexes.


What are you doing now and how important has your PhD been in achieving this?

I am now a Research Fellow at the University of Brighton and work with Professor Jacqueline O’Reilly on the STYLE (Strategic Transitions for Youth Labour in Europe) project. The € 5 million EU-funded STYLE project involves 25 research partners and over 60 stakeholder organisations across Europe including the European Youth Forum representing 99 national youth councils across the EU. The aim of this project is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the causes of very high unemployment among young people and to assess the effectiveness of labour market policies designed to mitigate this phenomenon. My role in the project is related to my previous studies as I am investigating whether and to what extent the family of origin affects the employment probabilities of young individuals in the UK with different ethnic backgrounds.


To read more about this research:

Carolina V. Zuccotti (2015) “Shaping Ethnic Inequalities: The production and reproduction of social and spatial inequalities among ethnic minorities in England and Wales”, Ph.D. Thesis, European University Institute. Retrieved online from

Zuccotti, C. (2015) ‘Do Parents Matter? Revisiting Ethnic Penalties in Occupation among Second Generation Ethnic Minorities in England and Wales’, Sociology, 49, pp: 229-251.

To read more about Carolina’s research:

Zuccotti, C. V., Ganzeboom, H. B. G. and Guveli, A. (2015) ‘Has Migration Been Beneficial for Migrants and Their Children?’, International Migration ReviewDOI: 10.1111/imre.12219