The optimistic conclusion of the latest study on the subject is that differences in job status among employees up to the age of 45 reflect almost entirely differences in their qualifications rather than their ethnic origins. This contrasts with the experience of older employees, for whom being non-white is one of the main explanations for failing to climb the careers ladder.
"Occupational inequality in Britain has increasingly become a matter of what you are rather than who you are. That is as it should be," said Vani Borooah, author of the report, presenting his results at the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society yesterday.
Dr Borooah's research addressed two questions. One is how far lack of success is due to poor qualifications and other personal factors, and how much due simply to ethnic origin. The other is whether the pattern is changing.
Both region and qualifications turned out to be important influences on career paths. In particular, living in London meant less disadvantage due to ethnic origin. Holding a degree also conferred a benefit.
Dr Borooah, a lecturer at the University of Ulster, concluded: "Younger blacks and Indians in full-time employment faced less disadvantage, relative to similarly qualified whites, than did their older counterparts."