In 1990s Britain a Pakistani with a degree has as much chance of a job as an uneducated white man

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Ethnic minority students, especially those of Asian origin, are outperforming their white counterparts - but still are struggling to translate this success into their employment prospects, says a major study by the Policy Studies Institute.

Ethnic Minorities in Britain, the fourth in a series of reports which have charted the experience of migrants and their families since the 1960s, found that among people of working age, Chinese, African Asians and Indians tend to be more qualified than whites, following a significant push for educational status among second-generation migrants.

But this does not necessarily guarantee them a better job. The study found that a completely unqualified white man has the same job prospects as a degree-educated Pakistani or Bangladeshi. Minorities are still seriously under-represented in top jobs, suggesting the existence of a "glass ceiling". "Many black and Asian people are in worse jobs than white people despite having similar qualifications, and the education system is failing young black men and Pakistani men and women, who continue to be disproportionately without qualifications," it concluded.

The report shows that there are wide differences in the experiences of minorities, especially in the area of income. The report found that more than 80 per cent of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis live in households with incomes below half the national average, making them the poorest group in Britain.

By contrast African Asians and Chinese are more likely than whites to earn more than pounds 500 per week and have low unemployment rates.

Tariq Modood, the main author of the report, said that diversity among minority groups was now just as important as the "black-white divide". "People who are not white in Britain are often conceived of as sharing similar circumstances. This study shows that the differences are just as important, and not confined to aspects of private culture ... ethnic difference should not be equated with disadvantage," he said.

The report found differences in the economic performances of the sexes within many minorities. Indian and Caribbean women, for example, suffer above average levels of unemployment. But those in work tend to have good jobs. In fact, their average earnings tend to be higher than those of white women, a fact ascribed to the high proportion working in public services such as the NHS.

"That some minorities have become relatively prosperous should not be an excuse for ignoring the racial disadvantage faced by other groups," said Richard Berthoud, one of the authors. "The diversity in experience means that policy will have to be more complex. You can't simply have another race relations Act."

One significant development was the conclusion that mixed relationships are clearly on the increase.

Of those born in Britain, half of Caribbean men, one-third of Caribbean women and 20 per cent of Indian and African men now have a white partner, said the report, which cost pounds 1m to produce.

Four out of every five "Caribbean" children have one white parent, while half of Caribbean families with children are headed by a single parent.

Racial harassment continued unabated, including insults and abuse at the hands of strangers, neighbours, workmates and police. Twelve per cent of those interviewed said they had been racially abused or threatened in the past year, and a quarter said that they worried about the possibility of attack.

Black and Asian people were more likely now than 10 years ago to believe they had been unfairly treated by employers. The survey of 5,196 people of Caribbean and Asian origin, together with 2,867 white people to provide a comparison, was the largest ever survey of ethnic minorities in Britain.

t Ethnic Minorities in Britain: diversity and disadvantage; Tariq Modood, Richard Berthoud, et al; BEBC Distribution - 01202 715 555; pounds 17.50

Joblessness - how the races compare

Rate of unemployment (%), by highest British qualification

Qualifications White Caribbean Indian/ Pakistani/

African Asian Bangladeshi

None 19 (13) 42 (19) 20 (13) 46 (54)

O-level or equivalent 11 (10) 31 (16) 20 (10) 36 (42*)

A-level or higher 12 (7) 23 (16) 12 (12) 17 (18*)

n Figures in brackets denote women, while those with an asterisk denote small sample sizes