This study has investigated the social inequalities experienced by three generations of children of immigrants across multiple domains of life. We used census data to carry out a quantitative case study, focussing on children of the Windrush generation (Caribbean migrants who arrived between 1948 and 1971). Our aim was to contribute an holistic overview of the social inequality experienced by this group. In addition to a theoretical interest in intergenerational adaptation, and whether this was segmented or straight-line, our study was motivated by the historic and ongoing discrimination experienced by the Windrush generation and their children (Gentleman, 2019).
We address four research questions using analyses of a representative 5% sample of the 2011 Census for England and Wales. Our first question asks whether inequality exists, and if so, then in which domains of life. Although we did not find evidence of systematic inequality (i.e. for all sexes and all generations in all outcomes), we did document evidence of inequality in every domain for at least some specific groups (i.e., particular generations and/or sexes). Housing was one domain in which we documented uniform disadvantages for all groups; men and women of every generation were less likely to own their own homes and more likely to live in deprived housing than the White British population. We also found the largest relative inequalities in this domain.
Our findings can be positioned in the context of previous research on the children of immigrants in Britain. Regarding education and the labour market, children of—particularly Indian and Chinese—immigrants tend to be better educated than their parents and White British population. To that end, the poor educational outcomes of male children of the Windrush is interesting. Yet, all children of immigrants are less likely to be employed; some earn lower wages than the White British, notably Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Black Caribbeans (Dustmann et al., 2011). Our finding of large, persistent housing inequality reflects wider ethnic disadvantages in housing (Shankley & Finney, 2020). Specifically, rising levels of housing precarity, higher levels of social renting in groups like other Black, Black Caribbean and Black African, variation in home ownership—with higher levels among Indians and Pakistanis and lower levels among Black African, Arab and the other Black group—and overcrowding among Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Black Africans (Shankley & Finney, 2020). Our findings for health add to a small body of evidence of poor health among children of South Asians, Black Caribbeans and Black Africans—but not Chinese (Harding & Balarajan, 2000), alongside of excess adult mortality among the children of Black Caribbean, Black Other and Pakistanis and Bangladeshi immigrants (Wallace, 2016).
Our second research question focusses on the differences between women and men. Here, our findings are definitive. Male children of the Windrush are systematically disadvantaged in all life domains in the baseline models. The only exceptions (i.e., the only cases in which they did not experience baseline inequality relative to White-British men) were the G1.5 and G2 for both of the education outcomes and for self-reported health (5 models out of 30). Conversely, female children of the Windrush face much lower odds of inequality. In some domains, they even have better outcomes than White British women in the baseline models (e.g., lower odds of having no qualifications and working in a routine occupation, and higher odds of having a degree for the G1.5 and G2). More often, Windrush women have similar odds to White-British women in the baseline models but still have a disadvantage in some domains (e.g., housing and health). Health is the only domain in which women fare worse than men, and housing is the only domain where we find a broad consistency between sexes. For the remaining life domains—education, employment, and occupation—we find clear and consistent evidence that male children of the Windrush fare worse than females. In general, male–female differences persist in the adjusted models.
To interpret these gender differences, it is essential to consider the intersection between gender, ethnicity and class. These may combine to create distinctive, disparate outcomes among male and female children of the Windrush (Browne & Misra, 2003). With respect to education and the labour market—in which we observe lower relative inequality among female children of the Windrush—previous explanations of gendered outcomes among the children of immigrants focus on suggestions that women are less likely to be criminalised, have higher educational and occupational aspirations and are positively affected by gender-role socialisation (Feliciano & Rumbaut, 2005; Mickelson, 1989). In Britain, previous work has highlighted lower aspirations among Black Caribbean boys (Francis & Skelton, 2005). With respect to health—the domain in which we find lower relative inequality among male children of the Windrush—differences might be explained by increased prevalence of certain diseases among women. A recent scoping review found that Black Caribbeans—especially women—had twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to the White British (Bennett et al., 2015). Curtis and Lawson (2000) found that the reporting of psychosocial illness varied between Black Caribbean men and women, that they recognised different health risks and that gender differences in self-reported health were more pronounced in the ages we study, a result of traditional, fixed gender expectations. Gender aside, the better health of the G1.5 compared to the G2 and G2.5 may relate to some residual healthy migrant effect (i.e., its presence in the G1.5 and its absence in G2 and G2.5) (Wallace, 2016).
Our third question focuses upon generational gradients in inequality to test adaptation. Our intergenerational comparison provides evidence in support of segmented adaptation for the children of the Windrush. To elaborate, we show evidence that inequalities not only persist but also increase across generations. This is particularly notable in the baseline models, for example home ownership and both health outcomes for women and men. We also find several instances where there is no clear gradient (i.e., increasing relative levels of inequality from the G1.5 to the G2 to the G2.5), yet the level of inequality is worse among the G2.5 relative to the G1.5 (e.g., no qualifications for men and women and both employment outcomes). At the same time, the adjusted models do reduce differences in the relative inequality experienced over all generations.
Our findings therefore have theoretical implications, in particular with respect to theories of segmented adaptation. Our results not only demonstrate that adaptation can be segmented, and is far from guaranteed (e.g. in line with Zhou & Gonzales, 2019), but also that this segmentation is far from homogenous, varying according to gender, generation, and life domain, as well as the interconnectedness between different domains. Moreover, this heterogeneity is evident even though we analyse a specific case, thereby removing multiple sources of heterogeneity with respect to ethnicity and parental migration. We therefore recommend that theories of segmented adaptation acknowledge this potential heterogeneity, even when focussed on specific ethnic groups.
Our final question examines whether inequalities persist when we compare with members of the White British population who have similar social characteristics. The adjusted models make comparisons that control for region of residence, marital status, and variables representing the four other life domains. This comparison also provides some sense of the inter-dependencies between inequalities across the different domains. Our findings suggest a complex picture of inequality that is not easily summarised. Generally, we can say that inequality—where observed in the baseline models—is often reduced, but rarely fully explained, with the addition of the controls. Even compared to White British people with similar characteristics, the children of the Windrush generation often experience relative disadvantage. There are also instances in which the level of inequality is unchanged after the addition of controls (e.g., both employment outcomes among G1.5 men). In general, adjustment tends to have the greatest impact upon the G2.5.
For cases in which inequalities persist after standardising for variables that represent inequality in other domains of life, it may be that our choice of control does not adequately capture exactly what aspect of a given domain—or domains—account for the inequality that we have observed. Case in point, if our outcome is education, it may be that the choice of tenure—as opposed to, say, overcrowding—to represent the housing domain may have weaker explanatory power because tenure is not as relevant to educational success as, say, the physical and/or mental space that one has to study in. There are also other factors that generate inequality that simply cannot be captured in the census. Not least, the experience of personal and institutional discrimination and racism, the role of government policy in specific life domains, residential context (notably segregation), and the impact of characteristics of the parents of the children of the Windrush—including any inequalities that they experienced and whether they can be transmitted across generations.
We might consider housing—given this is where we find large, persistent inequality relative to White British even after standardisation for disadvantage in the other domains. Recent research has linked the inability of ethnic minorities to find affordable, good quality housing to factors that we cannot capture with the census. These include discrimination in the labour market, low levels of personal wealth, the adverse impact of recent hostile immigration policies, and a social security system that disproportionately penalises ethnic minority groups (Rhogaly et al., 2021). Shankley and Finney (2020) discuss how Black Caribbeans are concentrated in the social renting sector as a consequence of their immigration history and socioeconomic profile at the time of arrival.
Taking the findings of all of the research questions together, we show that the children of the Windrush generation experience pervasive and persistent social inequality relative to similar groups of the White British population, albeit with considerable variation by domain, outcome, sex, and generation, as indicated by our analysis. We also provide strong evidence of segmented adaptation.
Nevertheless, we note several limitations. First, our analysis says little about the processes that generate inequality, including the mechanisms that determine adaptation, which is a dynamic process that unfolds over time. Second, by examining inequalities among the children of the Windrush in 2011, we only focus on those alive and resident in England and Wales in 2011. As such, we say nothing about inequalities among individuals who emigrated or died before 2011, groups that may well be selected upon our outcomes. Data are not yet available for the next census (which was in March 2021). Third, we use country of birth and ethnicity to define our generations. Ethnicity is a fluid concept that can change depending on self-identification and how the question and categories are defined (Burton et al., 2010). A further limitation concerns the generalisability of our findings. In our case study, we have found strong evidence in support of segmented adaptation across multiple outcomes. However, our evidence is limited to children of the Windrush generation. Although there may be comparable inequalities experienced by other groups—within and beyond Britain—this remains to be tested using comparable data and a similar research design. Finally, a consequence of our quantitative approach means that we say nothing of the deeply personal experience of inequality of the children of the Windrush in Great Britain, how they attempt to cope it with it and how this might vary from person-to-person.
Mindful of these limitations, we indicate directions for future research. It is recommended that future analysis look to complement our findings with some in-depth qualitative interviews. This would offer a deeper, richer understanding of the unique and lived experiences of the observed inequalities in this paper and how they are produced, reproduced and maintained over the life course and between generations. This would, in turn, offer greater potential to address these persistent inequalities via public policy intervention. Regarding further quantitative research, when the 2021 Census data are available, it would be insightful to see how inequalities have changed over the last decade for the children of the Windrush. We also recommend that one of the UK’s longitudinal studies Is used to examine how the social inequalities that we have found developed over time, in particular within households, families and individuals. Our case study also focused exclusively on children of the Windrush generation. It would be interesting to examine whether similar social inequalities—and similar differences by sex and generation—exist for other groups, in particular for the children of immigrants who arrived prior to 1971 from other Commonwealth countries. Directly, extending our findings, future research could also look at why baseline inequalities are worse among men and why inequalities differ across generations.
Our results represent a renewed evaluation of intergenerational adaptation for the descendants of Caribbean immigrants in Britain and one of the most detailed multi-generational, multi-outcome studies of descendants of migrants anywhere. Our findings are alarming; we document inequality across most life outcomes alongside evidence of rising inequality across generations suggestive of segmented adaptation. In the aftermath of Britain’s departure from the European Union (EU), the ongoing plight of the Windrush generation looms large as social and political commentators fear for the future status of both EU citizens resident in Britain and British citizens who have settled in EU member states (BBC, 2019; Hinsliff, 2020). Our results show that inequality among children of the Windrush generation is pervasive. Despite having settled in Britain as British citizens with all the associated rights and opportunities of being British, the Windrush generation and their children have faced marked disadvantage and inequality. Our findings can contribute to, and suggest a need for, policies to address inequality across multiple domains of life. The ongoing Windrush scandal and the persisting elements of the 2012 hostile environment policy may further exacerbate the ingrained disadvantage that we find here. In designing future social policies, it will be crucial to harness the potential for the children of the Windrush—and the grandchildren of the Windrush—so as to experience greater levels of social equality.