Immigrants add to UK’s adult numeracy problems even though they are more likely to be graduates, UCL IoE study suggests

Immigrants add to UK’s adult numeracy problems even though they are more likely to be graduates, study suggests

Research also shows emigrants earn more but work longer hours


Each year more than 300,000 people leave the UK to begin a new life overseas. In their place around 450,000 immigrants travel across our borders to seek new opportunities.

But do immigrants adequately fill the jobs, and skills gaps, left behind by those who leave the UK? And do emigrants from this country enjoy a better life overseas than those who stay behind?

Dr John Jerrim, of the UCL Institute of Education, has examined the qualifications and numeracy skills of emigrants who left the UK between 1964 and 2011, and compared them with those of immigrants and UK-born people who have remained in this country (UK ‘stayers’).

His research suggests that the 684,000 highly numerate individuals who left the UK during the years he looked at were replaced by an almost equal number of very numerate immigrants, predominantly from Europe and South Asia.

However, Dr Jerrim calculates that immigration has also added 2.4 million individuals with low numeracy skills to the UK population.

“Although immigration from South Asia has added many highly numerate people to our labour force, immigration from the same region and Africa has added six times more people with low numeracy skills to the UK than those with high numeracy skills,” he says.

“Immigrants account for one in four of the 9.6 million working age adults living in the United Kingdom with low level numeracy skills. Immigration has therefore had its biggest impact upon the bottom end of the numeracy skill distribution; it has led to a significant increase in the supply of low skilled workers.”

Dr Jerrim analysed data on 24 countries gathered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Its 2011 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies survey included a test designed to measure functional skills in numeracy.

Immigrants to the UK scored, on average, only 234 points in this test, compared to the 268 points achieved by emigrants and 267 by UK-born ‘stayers’.

However, 37 per cent of immigrants possessed a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 21 per cent of UK ‘stayers’.

Dr Jerrim’s analysis of the survey data also reveals that UK emigrants are earning more money overseas and reporting better health than UK ‘stayers’. But they are working considerably longer hours than their counterparts in this country.

His research, which is thought to be the first large-scale analysis of its kind, found that average earnings for UK emigrants to North America and Australia in 2011 were $US 4,000 per month, compared to $US 3,200 for ‘stayers’.

The work-life balance appears to be better in this country. UK-born male ‘stayers’ in full-time jobs work an average of 44 hours per week, compared to the 55 hours of emigrants to the United States and Canada.

Nevertheless, almost nine in ten (86%) emigrants to North America said they were in very good or excellent health, compared to 61 per cent of UK-born citizens who have remained in this country.

Dr Jerrim’s study focused on 7,628 UK ‘stayers’, 843 immigrants into the UK and 1,324 emigrants, aged 16-65.

The average age of emigrants was 42, compared to 41 for UK-born ‘stayers’ and 37 for immigrants.

“Little was previously known about the employment, earnings or quality of life of UK emigrants compared to the individuals who remain in this country,” Dr Jerrim concludes. “Overall, although there are some important differences in regards to career paths and wages, these are perhaps not as pronounced as one might expect.

“It seems that, although many individuals move in search of a better life abroad, this may not always be achieved.”

“Emigrants from the UK: what do we know about their lives?”, by John Jerrim, is the latest working paper to be published by the IOE’s Department of Quantitative Social Science (QSS). It will be available from John Jerrim’s website from 00.01am on Thursday, 26 February. Advance copies of the paper will be made available to journalists on request.

Further information:

Ryan Bradshaw

020 7612 6516

David Budge

020 7911 5349

Notes for editors:

1. The PIAAC survey is the most comprehensive international survey of adult skills ever undertaken. Around 166,000 adults were surveyed in 24 countries and sub-national regions. It was conducted in England and Northern Ireland from August 2011 to April 2012. A total of 8,892 adults aged 16 to 65 were surveyed in the UK.

2. Those in the high and low numeracy bands scored in the top and bottom quarters of the ability range.

3. Dr Jerrim also used research from the Office for National Statistics to calculate long-term emigration from the UK.

4. The author received funding from the OECD Thomas J. Alexander fellowship program for carrying out this work. The work should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD or of its member countries. The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein are those of the author.

5. The UCL Institute of Education is a world-leader specialising in education and the social sciences. Founded in 1902, the Institute currently has more than 7,000 students and 800 staff. In the 2014 QS World University Rankings, the Institute was ranked number one for education worldwide. It was shortlisted in the ‘University of the Year’ category of the 2014 Times Higher Education (THE) awards. In January 2014, the Institute was recognised by Ofsted for its ‘outstanding’ initial teacher training across primary, secondary and further education. In the most recent Research Excellence Framework, 94% of our research was judged to be world class. On 2 December 2014, the Institute became a single-faculty school of UCL, called the UCL Institute of Education. []

6. Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world’s top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 35,000 students from 150 countries and over 11,000 employees. Our annual income is over £1bn.

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