VUB study shows that secondary school pupils also experience discrimination

VUB study shows that secondary school pupils also experience discrimination

Having a non-Western sounding name can be an obstacle when seeking a job

Research within the framework of a master’s thesis at VUB shows that secondary school pupils with a non-Western sounding name are 4.28 times less likely to find a job in the government, in the private sector, an organisation or with a private individual than pupils with an apparently Western name. The study was conducted in the context of the YOUCA Action Day, when pupils from secondary school go to work for one day and use their wages to support youth projects worldwide. Other factors also appear to be decisive in finding a job, such as the pupil’s motivation, self-confidence, social network, socio-economic status and field of study. Master’s student Céline Martens used a dataset of 14,636 cases, compiled by YOUCA, for her research led by Professor Free De Backer.

All pupils were in the fourth to last year of secondary education at the time of the research. Martens reduced the data to a representative group of 1,536 cases, 302 of whom had a non-Western name. At the same time, she also questioned teachers who participated in the YOUCA Action Day, looking for other possible causes of job failure and how those teachers prepare and guide their pupils.

Similar to discrimination described in the literature looking at the regular labour market, discrimination was also found among secondary school pupils.

“This certainly has partly to do with the sound of their name,” says Martens. “In total, I was able to extract 19 factors from my research which can influence whether or not a pupil finds a job. In addition to pupils’ motivation, their social network also plays a decisive role. According to previous research, people with a migrant background are less likely to have access to valuable resources and information about jobs in their social network and have fewer people in their network who have the power to offer jobs. According to the teachers, pupils with a large and labour-active network find jobs more quickly and easily than pupils with a small or labour-passive network. Having a student job or an internship can also help pupils find a job, as can the presence of self-employed people in their network. Not coincidentally, these are almost all factors that play a greater role for pupils with a migrant background, pupils from underprivileged areas and pupils in vocational trajectories.”

In her recommendations, Martens states that YOUCA should continue to work on raising awareness among employers and developing a complaints office for discrimination, which has since been done. She also says governments and organisations should continue to pay attention to the issue.

“Because there is still a lot of ignorance about this and little research has been conducted, it is important to increase knowledge and understanding by means of information, support and training,” Martens says. “Both the government and civil society organisations must make far-reaching efforts to take steps in reducing inequality and discrimination.”


Céline Martens, master in adult educational sciences 

0478 087 081


Thesis available here



The Wetenschapswinkel (Science Shop) is a project run by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the University of Antwerp and, from the academic year 2021-2022, KU Leuven. It offers support to non-profit organisations through scientific research, carried out by students in the context of a project or thesis. The students answer the research question with the organisation and under the guidance of an experienced researcher. It brings together students, organisations and supervisors and mediates between them. The result is a win-win situation: scientifically substantiated and usable research for the organisation and socially relevant research experience for the student. Moreover, the student gets to know the professional field and builds up a network.

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