Researchers found that for some minorities in Britain there was a strong link between their rate of employment and the level of job application rejections, while other minorities had managed to overcome discrimination.
The researchers, Dr Wouter Zwysen, of the European Trade Union Institute and affiliated with the University of Essex, Dr Valentina Di Stasio, Utrecht University, and Professor Anthony Heath, University of Oxford, analysed previous studies on discrimination against job applicants.
They looked at research in which fake applications were sent out for jobs from people with the same level of qualifications and experience who had names suggesting they were either white British or from an ethnic minority. Those from ethnic minorities were less than half as likely to be invited for interview.
In the first study of its kind, the three researchers correlated these findings with the rate of employment among ethnic groups to see how important prejudice against names was as an explanation for their disadvantage.
With people of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, black African, black Caribbean, and Middle East and North Africa ethnicity, the link was clear. They were less than half as likely to be invited for a job interview as people with surnames suggesting they were white British, and their employment rate was similarly less than half that of white British.
However, people of Chinese and Indian ethnicity, although they were also less than half as likely to be invited for interview, had an employment rate much closer to white British people. The researchers suggest that they can overcome prejudice among employers because they have stronger social networks.
"All ethnic minority groups are substantially less likely than the white British to receive a positive call-back when applying for a job," say the researchers, writing in the journal Sociology, published by the British Sociological Association.
"We show a sizeable positive relation between the degree of ethnic discrimination recorded in field experiments and the overall disadvantage faced by ethnic minorities on the labour market. This strongly suggests that ethnic penalties reflect hiring discrimination, and generally groups that experience worse hiring discrimination also have higher ethnic penalties in employment.
"However, while there are no discernible differences in hiring discrimination between the groups, the ethnic penalties do differ substantially. Most notably, Chinese and Indian minorities fare better than black African, black Caribbean and Pakistani or Bangladeshi minorities with respect to ethnic penalties, despite their very similar risks of hiring discrimination.
"We propose that some of the better-performing ethnic groups might have access to more resourceful social networks that can help in finding jobs through other channels than responding directly to vacancies."
The researchers also found that highly qualified applicants, while still discriminated against, were more resistant to prejudice and able to find appropriate work, while those with middle and lower qualifications faced more struggle in finding appropriate jobs.