Researching the ethnicity wage gap

Awarded Undergraduate Best Dissertation prize for his Stage 3 dissertation on the ethnicity wage gap, Joel Pointon blogs about the experience, concluding that Economics needs to focus its efforts on this form of inequality. 

young black men laugh together
  "Black men Capture" by Siviwe Kapteyn.

Extended essay or dissertation? It’s the question that everyone has to think about at some point during their time in the Economics department. And usually, when you chat to third years who have finished, both sides of the debate are glad they chose what they chose. So what is a dissertation, how does it work, who is it for, and how did I find mine? 

I’ll say all of the following with the caveat that I haven’t received my grade for the dissertation back yet, so maybe my opinion of the dissertation will change depending on how results day goes! (Editors note: results day went very well for Joel indeed, and very well deserved.)

I chose a dissertation because I wanted to do some meaningful research and have something to talk about at interviews (both jobs and master’s courses). It is an extended piece of research where, instead of just summarising other peoples’ work, you complete your own econometrics analysis and write about it. After chatting to some academics about different topics which interested me (education, inequality, among others), I decided to research the ethnicity wage gap. It was (and is) very topical, and there is far less research on this compared to the gender wage gap, meaning that Economics needs to focus its efforts on this form of inequality. 


Joel Pointon in Kennedy
Stage 3 student Joel Pointon


I was assigned Dr Amanda Gosling as my supervisor (who was amazing!) but I also spent lots of time with Dr Olena Nizalova (my Econometrics lecturer) and Guillermo Cabanillas-Jimenez (Kenometrics!) who helped me with the more advanced econometric techniques once I had sourced my data. I spent hours getting data that then couldn’t be used (as it didn’t have a diverse enough sample), but these things happen. It’s all part of the challenge and makes it even sweeter once you are finished. Getting my final data source (the LFS) was then easier, as I knew what I was doing. 

After getting some interesting provisional results, I wrote up a draft chapter for the Christmas deadline and then spent most of the next term reading the relevant literature and developing my analysis. I’ll just run through what I found through my analysis, but if you’re interested in reading the full thing (or giving it a skim read), then you can take a look here.

I found that over the past 23 years, ethnic minority males have had lower pay than their white counterparts, often for unexplained reasons (which can be largely thought of as direct pay discrimination). Interestingly, ethnic minority women actually earned more than white women due to having higher levels of education (and despite some evidence of pay discrimination).  

Discrimination was also possibly a factor affecting the choice of jobs, which causes groups of people to cluster into particular occupations. My findings of the cause of this were inconclusive, but occupational clustering had a large effect on the pay gap, which means more research into this would be very useful for developing government policy. I also noted that direct pay discrimination has been relatively unchanged over time. I would encourage you to read over the full paper if you have time! 

Exploring the role of discrimination in the ethnicity pay gap is tough, and there are likely some flaws in my work, but the dissertation gave me a greater appreciation of the need for Economics to address the big issues in society, and not shy away from them. While it took a lot of time, was deeply frustrating at (many!) moments, and required lots of heavy problem-solving, I thoroughly enjoyed it – it has been the most rewarding and enjoyable part of my degree, without a doubt. If you are prepared to put in the time and effort, right from the start, then you can’t go too wrong with a dissertation. 


Joel is studying for a BSc (Hons) in Economics with Econometrics.