Asian Indians in Great Britain

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

20 Pages, Grade: 1.3





The History of Asian Indians in Britain

The growing importance of self-employment among Asian Indians

Why are Asian Indians so successful?


A severe problem for Asian Indians migrants in Great Britain

Intergenerational problem




In this essay, I will raise the question if the story of immigration of Asian Indians to Great Britain can be considered a “genuine success story“. At first glance, no one would seriously doubt that. Asian Indians are the largest ethnic group in Britain and known as an “upwardly mobile people“. They are successful entrepreneurs, restaurant owners and academics; as well as the inventors of the popular “British“ national dish chicken tikka masala, which has recently “surpassed fish and chips in terms of popularity” ( They are also important influencers of Britain`s pop culture, especially through literature and successful films such as Bend it like Beckham, East is East or the TV show The Kumars at No.42 (ibid). The Anglo-Indian influence on British popular culture (ibid).

The biggest influence that British Indians have on British popular culture can be seen by the large number of Indian restaurants, most of which are actually run by owners of Bangladeshi origin. Chicken tikka masala has surpassed fish and chips in terms of popularity and become Britain`s most popular national dish, even though it is a British Asian invention which was not known in India until it was introduced after many British tourists had requested it. Although Asian Indians are a vital part of the British culture, they still have to face many obstacles; racism and unemployment as well as intergenerational conflict are amongst these problems.


According to the 2001 census 1,053,411 Indians or British Indians lived in the UK making up 50.2 percent of the UK`s non-white population and 1.8 percent of its total population (58,789,194 individuals)

(h Indians are the UK`s largest minority group as well as its largest Asian minority group followed by Pakistanis (1.3 percent of the total population) and Bangladeshis (0.5 percent) (ibid). Whilst Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in Britain are rather religiously homogenous -with Muslims accounting for 92 percent of each group: British Indians are religiously diverse, with 45 percent being Hindu, 29 percent Sikh and 13 percent Muslim believers (

British Indians tend to originate mainly from two Indian states: Sikhs are mainly from the Punjab region whilst “Hindus and Muslims tend to originate from the Gujarat region” (ibid).

London has the largest concentration of Asian residents: 41 percent are of Indian heritage, 54 percent of Bangladeshi and 19 percent of Pakistani - 35 percent of the total population of Asians in the UK live in London (

The largest Indian communities are concentrated in the boroughs of Ealing, Brent and Harrow (ibid). More than 96 percent of Asians in the UK live in England - only about 3.7 percent of them live in Scotland (under 49,000), Wales (22,000) and Northern Ireland (2,500) (ibid).

Thus only less than 25,000 Anglo-Indians live in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined (under 3 percent of all Asian Indians living in the UK)(ibid).

The History of Asian Indians in Britain

Although some Asians had settled in the UK, either temporarily or permanently, before World War II, most Asian immigration to Great Britain took place in the 1950s and 1960s from Commonwealth of Nations countries, e.g. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (

At the same time streams of immigrants from former British colonies in the Caribbean were also migrating to the UK for better job and life opportunities (ibid).

Large numbers of Indian immigrants entered the UK during the 20th century. After the Second World War huge numbers of manual workers from India were recruited from India in order to compensate for the labour shortage resulting from the war (ibid). Many of them were recruited to work on the railways as they did in India (ibid). “Medical staff from the subcontinent were recruited for the newly formed National Health Service. These people were targeted because they spoke English and held qualifications which were recognized in the UK…(ibid)”. Still the mass migration of South Asians was far less “direct or officially organized” than the migration from the Caribbean in the 1950s (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 420). Whilst West Indian immigrants were recruited as workers for London Transport and the National Health Service, South Asian migration was later and “far more voluntaristic and far less direct or officially organized recruitment” (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 419). Mass migration from India and Pakistan reached its peak in 1961 and 1962 with 49,000 and 47,000 people - most of them young males (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 420). Later in the 1960s their dependents would follow them and thus compensate the gender-related imbalance of South Asian immigrants (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 420).

The Commonwealth Immigration Act 1962 and Immigration Act 1971 largely restricted further primary immigration to the UK, although family members of already-settled migrants were still allowed to follow their relatives into the UK (ibid). The subsequent growth of the Indian community has came from births of second and third-generation Indian Asian British (ibid). Britain`s minority ethnic population grew by 53 percent between 1991 and 2001, from 3.0 million in 1991 to 4.6 million in 2001 (h

The earliest Indians to arrive found work in the same employment niches as West Indians, e.g. “in London hospitals, in the car and engineering industries, on the buses and trains and at the London airports“ (Loury et al. (2005), 421). They also found employment in the more distant regions of the country, e.g. with municipal public transportation undertakings in northern cities such as Manchester, Preston, and Blackburn, as well as with “British Rail” (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 421). Northern engineering and metal companies in cities such as Sheffield, as well as the growing textile factories of Lancashire and Yorkshire were “enthusiastic employers of Asian workers” (Loury et al. (2005), 421).

More and more Indian and Pakistani workers, both men and women, occupied jobs in the “clothing and footware industries of the East Midlands” making particular textile mills practically their own (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 421). In northern towns and cities such as Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Manchester, Blackburn, Preston, Oldham, Bolton, Leichester, Nottingham, and Dundee, Indian and Pakistani labourers formed their own communities with the help of strong social and family networks (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 421).

By the early 1980s, Indians primarily worked in car industry, the textile industry, and in Transport and Communications, but they were underrepresented in public and commercial services (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 422). The 1971 social class profile of the white and ethnic minority populations (of males and females) show that Asian Indians were almost as successful as White people (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 422). Asian Indians were overrepresented in professional jobs and in semiskilled jobs (ibid). They were more successful than Pakistani and Black Caribbean employees who were overrepresented in unskilled jobs and underrepresented in the professional jobs (ibid). Having employment was not regarded as a huge achievement, because unemployment was hardly a big problem during the long postwar boom in the UK - unemployment did not exceed percent before the oil shock of 1974 (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 423). However, it was regarded as a great success to be of a similar social class status as White people - 5 percent of the White male employees and one percent of the White females were professionals, whereas 10 percent and four percent of the Indian employees were professionals. Whites were still more successful as “employers and managers” and “junior white-collars” (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 422). Since the early 1970s there has been a major transformation: the job market in Great Britain has gone through numerous drastic changes for Asian Indians. Unemployment has become a serious issue since 1974 - a combination of the oil shock, a loss of international competitiveness of British industry, and also because the impact of the New International Division of Labour caused unemployment to rise from 5 percent in 1979 to 8.3 percent by 1996 (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 423). Whilst unemployment rates of White workers have generally risen, unemployment rates of ethnic workers have tripled (cf. Loury et. al. (2005), 423).

The UK became a post-industrial economy, which meant that the type of employment available changed drastically (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 423). 3.6 million manufacturing jobs were lost between 1971 and 1984 (44 percent of the total manufacturing jobs) and 2.7 million jobs in the service sector were created during the same period (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 424). Later in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, 2.2 million manufacturing jobs were lost, especially in the engineering and textile industries, which had attracted many Asian Indians in the 1960s (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 423). Furthermore, some service sectors shed labour in order to remain competitive, e.g. bus companies and other companies in the Transport and Communication sector that had “actively recruited West Indians and Asian labour“ (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 424).

English town and cities, particularly in the North West and in the West Midlands lost many jobs. In regions like East Anglia, South East and South West the number of jobs remained the same or even increased slightly (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 424).

However many unskilled blue-and white collar workers were made redundant and thus there came a great demand for “information” workers, meaning that “intermediate and senior white collar” jobs, involving the use of new technology, replaced these unskilled jobs (Loury et al. (2005), 424). Between 1977 and 1991 2.6 million new jobs in the service sector were created (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 424). These newly-created jobs were mainly jobs for female part-time workers (1.9 million women in part-time jobs)(created (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 424).

But how did Asian Indian unemployed women and men react to their job losses ?

Past colonial relations and obligations ensured their right to stay in Britain with their families despite their unemployment status (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 425).

They did not move their families to more prosperous areas in order to find new employment. Rather, they sought different ways to become self-employed.

The growing importance of self-employment among Asian Indians

Self-employment became a national trend in Great Britain in the 1980s, a decade that saw a nation-wide increase in the number of self-employment by 57 percent through a greater availability of start-up capital and Thatcher` s new “enterprise culture” (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 425). Asian Indians followed this trend, which was unusual within Europe (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 425). Although they lost their jobs, Asian Indian families did not chose to give up their ethnic clusters in the towns they had moved to to find employment. The movement from unemployment in 1981 to self-employment in 1991 was made by approximately 17 percent of unemployed Indian women and by 20 percent of unemployed Indian men (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 429). In the 1990s this trend continued (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 430).

Different schools of thought have tried to explain the growing importance of self-employment for Asian Indians. Self-employment is prevalent especially among Asian Indian men, although it did not play a significant role in the 1970s. The question is: “Why did the self-employment of Asian Indians rise from 8 percent in 1971 to 18.3 percent in 1991 ?” (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 432). By 1991 Indian men were 38 percent more likely to be self-employed than their White counterparts (cf. Loury et al. (2005).

Sheila Srinivasan argues:

“there is little evidence of … South Asian shopkeepers and restaurant owners being pushed into self-employment. Entry into small business appears to be a deliberate strategy adopted to raise both economic and social standing… [and] … achieve ethnically oriented status aspirations” (Srinivasan (1995), 86).

However, Waldinger, Aldrich, and Ward stress that Asian Indians profited from “cultural resources”, such as social networks created by chain migration, which help entrepreneurs as they rely on the “trust, interdependence, and reciprocity” within these networks. Most Asian Indian entrepreneurs (62 percent) work in the service industry “which covers distribution, hotels, catering, and repairs”.

Through self-employment, Indian men and women experienced an upward social mobility during the decade 1981 to 1991, despite the drastic restructuring of the job market, with an increase of 21 percent male and 18 percent female employers, although the most likely scenario was that they did not change their social class (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 429). In her 1995 Oxford case study, Srinivasan (1995) found out that Asian business-owner appreciated self-employment for “culturally specific reasons”. They appreciated their independence and enjoyed an enhanced status within the Asian Indian community being a business owner; owning a business also gave them the opportunity to spend more time with their families (Srinivasan (1995), 86).

Why are Asian Indians so successful?

In the previous section, I discussed that entering self-employment has been a popular way to avoid unemployment and poverty among Asian Indians.

Regarding their economic performance, Indians show remarkable success, whereas Pakistanis are less successful and Bangladeshis have significant economic problems ((http//www.telegraph Interestingly, the arrival of the Indian newcomers to Britain between 1991 and 2001, outrun Indians who have been settled in Britain for decades, in terms of economic performance. They are usually well-qualified and often find employment in IT and banking (ibid.). Therefore 18 percent of Asian Indian settlers who arrived in Britain during the last decade of the 20th century are “high earners”, earning more than 750 pounds a week, whereas only 7.9 percent of earlier Asian Indian settlers do so (ibid).

According to educational experts, education and hard work are important values in Asian Indian family that are handed to them from generation to generation ( These values are reflected in the “outstanding school performance of young Asian Indians” (ibid). Asian Indians outperform young Whites and all other ethnic groups. The result tables for General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) suggest that 60 percent of pupils from Asian Indian families gained five good GCSEs (ibid). Good GCSE results pave their way to successful A-level exams and university degrees (ibid). Education being an important value to Asian Indian families is also reflected in a higher rate of attendance at independent schools: As of 2002 eight percent of Indian pupils attended independent school whereas only five percent of White pupils did so (ibid). Education attainment is part of the answer why Asian Indian settlers have been so successful in Britain. They usually came to the UK with a middle class background and grew up in a success-oriented culture ( pop_intro.html).

The PSI survey of the mid-1970s showed that Indians and African-Asian males were the best qualified and they could even further improve their qualifications (cf. Mohood (2005), 289). Asian Indian males have better qualifications than their White peers (ibid). However, Asian Indian women are less qualified than men (cf. Mohood (2005), 293).

However, despite their success in terms of education, Asian Indians still suffer a higher unemployment rate than the White population ( pop_intro.html). The fact that Asian Indian migrants show higher rates of unemployment, although they are on average more qualified than White British can be interpreted in the light of racism. Racism is one of the huge problems Indian Asians have to face in Britain (http//www.telegraph

Racism: A severe problem for Asian Indians migrants in Great Britain

Racism is one of the biggest problem to all ethnic minority groups in the UK. In 1999, the risk of being “the victim of a racially motivated incident” was significantly higher for ethnic minorities than for White people ( According to the British Crime survey 1999, racially motivated incidents represented 12 percent of all crime against ethnic minorities compared with 2 percent for White people.

Although the total number of such incidents dropped from 390,000 in 1995 to 280,000 in 1999, these figures are still shocking.

The highest risk of being victim to racist incidents was for Pakistani and Bangladeshi people at 4.2 percent, followed by 3.6 percent for Indian people and 2.2 percent for Black people, compared with 0.3 percent for White people (ibid).

Another threat revealed by this survey, is the very high risk of becoming a victim to household crime, which is very high for Indian Asians. Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani people are more likely to become victims to household crime than Black and White people (ibid). Indians are at particularly high risk of getting burgled. I explained that entering unemployment was a way for many Asian Indians to put an end to their unemployment. However, some scholars claim that becoming self-employed is also a way Asian Indians chose in order to avoid racism and discrimination they had to face on the job market (Aldrich et al. 1981, Jones, McEvoy, and Barett 1994) (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 432). These scholars believe that racial exclusionism Asian Indians away from desirable jobs and leaves them only poorly paid jobs that no White person would accept (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 432). Consequently, Asian Indians enter self-employment to avoid such obstacles.

In this approach, the likelihood to enter self-employment is not related to cultural preferences (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 433). It rather sees self-employment as a defence strategy to avoid bias-based disadvantages; self-employment often includes the “exploitation of family labour and informal sources of capital and credit” in order to survive (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 433). Despite their efforts and their better qualifications, Asian Indians still earn far less money than White entrepreneurs (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 433).

This school of thought regards self-employment of Asian Indians as a way to “avoid unemployment, underemployment, blocked mobility, and lack of job satisfaction”, as well as claims that most of these businesses generally employ few people other than the entrepreneurs themselves and primarily “cater for an ethnic clientele” (cf. Loury et al. (2005), 433). Intergenerational problems are another relevant issue, especially between first and second generation Asian Indians in Great Britain.

Intergenerational problems

Especially second generation Asian Indians in Great Britain have to deal with a lot of conflict arising from the differences and contractions of their cultural heritage and the British host culture. They live in two cultures, the culture of their parents and the British culture. The clash between eastern and western values, which are both part of their daily lives, often lead to intergenerational problems.

There are many differences between the first and the second generation of Asian Indians living in Britain. The first generation of Asian Indians came to Britain mainly in the 1960s, were born in India and therefore have an Indian background. The second generation were born and raised in Britain, and therefore have British nationality and were raised in a western society. The conflict occurs when, in trying to assimilate, second generation Indians reject the strict and traditional customs of their parents for more liberal and “open” customs of the British culture.

In sharp contrast to Pakistani and Bangladeshi (male) immigrants, Asian Indian men usually did not usually arrive in Great Britain unattached. In most cases they brought their wives and children and larger parts of their extended families with them (www.oxygen…).

Second generation Asian Indians grew up in an environment which was marked by “often conflicting and polarizing cultural issues” (ibid). Thus they had to become culturally “bilingual“, which means that they had to learn to negotiate between eastern and western values, the culture of their parents and the culture of their “host” country (ibid). Intergenerational problems come up whenever it becomes hard to negotiate between the cultural heritage and the British culture. In many traditional Asian Indian families, marriages are arranged and organized in a rather patriarchal fashion (cf. Berthoud, 247). Consequently, husband have authority over wives although they might be professionals (ibid). However, Asian Indian women are supposed to keep house and raise their children (ibid). In most traditional Asian Indian families early marriage plays a big role, most of which are arranged by their parents or other family elders (cf. Berthoud (2005), 246). It is highly unusual for young women and men born in Britain to marry a White spouse (cf. Berthoud (2005), 242).. Also three-generation household are very common among Asian Indians; in most cases it is the husband` s parents the couple lives with (cf. Berthoud (2005), 240). Indian women are more likely than White women to become full-time homemakers once they got married (ibid).

Mohood argues that these are traditions which future generations might question. Having grown up with eastern and western values, future generations of Asian Indians might want to live like their White peers. They might favour a more liberal and individual life over a traditional Asian Indian family life. Their most important task will be to compromise between eastern and western values, between their cultural heritage and their British “host” culture.


It can be stated that the immigration of Asian Indians is a success story. Asian Indians are a success-oriented people. Education is a very important values to them. However, family ties are even more important to them. Therefore many of them were not willing to leave their “home towns” in Great Britain when may industrial jobs were lost. They preferred to seek ways into self-employment rather than leaving their family clusters. Self-employment has become very prevalent among Asian Indians, partly because they refused to move their families into more prosperous areas once many Asian Indians had lost their jobs and partly because it was also a way to avoid racism and discrimination on the labour market. Racism remains a problem to all ethnic minorities. However, Asian Indians are very likely to become victims to racist attacks and burglary.

Today second and third generation Asian Indians show better school performances than their White peers. Many of them attend private schools and are diligent learners who are very likely to achieve good GCSE and A-level results, as well as university degrees. Intergenerational problems between parents and children are a result of discrepancies between the eastern cultural heritage of their families and the western values they are exposed to at school. Usually Asian Indian children learn how to negotiate between these different values. They learn how to deal with their parents` expectations and the more liberal British culture. Second generation Asian Indians have to find their own way how to deal with the conflicting and polarized cultural issues they have to face in their daily lives being British of Asian Indian origin.


Berthoud, Richard. “Familiy formulation in multicultural Britain: diversity and chance”. Ethnicity, Social Mobility, and Public Policy: Comparing the USA and UK. Ed. Glenn C. Loury, Tariq Mohood, and Steve M. Teles. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 222-254.

Mohood, Tariq. “The educational attainment of ethnic minorities in Britain”. Ethnicity, Social Mobility, and Public Policy: Comparing the USA and UK. Ed. Glenn C. Loury, Tariq Mohood, and Steve M. Teles. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 288-308.

Loury, Glenn C., Tariq Mohood, and Steven M. Teles (Ed.). (2005). Ethnicity, Social Mobility, and Public Policy: Comparing the USA and UK. New Work: Cambridge University Press.

Srinivasan, Shaila. (1995). The South Asian Petty Bourgeosie in Britain: An Oxford Case Study. Aldershot: Avebury.

Waldinger, R., H. Aldrich, and R. Ward, Ethnic Entrepreneurs, New York: Sage. (30/4/2006). (30/4/2006). (1/5/2006). pop_intro.html (30/4/2006) (7/5/2006).

http//www.telegraph (23/4/2006).

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Asian Indians in Great Britain
University of Potsdam
The Commonwealth of Nations
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Asian, Indians, Great, Britain, Commonwealth, Nations
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Vinzent Fröhlich (Author), 2006, Asian Indians in Great Britain, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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