Accent Bias in Britain
Examining current attitudes to accents in Britain
What is Accent Bias?
Accent is perhaps the most recognisable sign of social and ethnic background in the UK today. But what impact does someone’s accent have on their opportunities and life outcomes? Are people biased, positively or negatively, towards different accents? More specifically, could accent bias affect someone’s judgement in a professional setting?
The Accent Bias in Britain project examines current attitudes to accents in Britain, and investigates whether unconscious accent bias plays a role in how job candidates are evaluated.
Is accent bias a problem?
Unequal outcomes for minority groups in professional hiring has been widely reported. Yet the role played by the best-known signal of class and ethnic difference in the UK – accent – has until now remained largely unexplored.
Research in the United States has shown that accent bias can lead to unequal access to employment, housing, and education. Despite the legendary history of accent and class in British society, equivalent research on its impact on life outcomes for different social groups is very limited.
The issue of whether accent bias exists, and when it can cross the line into actual discrimination, urgently requires proper investigation.
The Accent Bias in Britain project has three main goals:
To identify whether accent bias exists in professional hiring contexts, and what impacts this can have.
To understand the causes and effects of any bias and provide an informed, evidence-based understanding of attitudes to accents in the UK today.
To test tools, training and techniques that can be used to combat bias.
Our work brings together theories and methods from sociolinguistics, social psychology, and labour market economics. It is composed of three main activities.
First, we carried out two national online surveys of attitudes to accents, to examine the general prevalence of accent bias amongst the UK public.
Next, we examined the impact of accent bias on hiring practices in more detail. Focusing on an elite sector that has historically struggled with diversity (law), we investigated whether accent bias interferes with the judging of professional skill.
Finally, we test tools and training and make recommendations to help combat the effects of bias. These target three key audiences: policymakers, recruiters, and jobseekers
The Accent Bias in Britain project has developed a wealth of resources for anyone interested in learning more about accent bias and tackling the problem, from research reports (such our 2022 Sutton Trust report) and training tools to media engagement.
Visit our ‘Resources’ section to read more.
Explore our data
How do people’s backgrounds affect their attitudes? We asked over 1000 members of the public to evaluate 10 mock job interview answers spoken in five different accents.
We also asked them about their own social and linguistic backgrounds, and their beliefs about cultural diversity.
Use our interactive data visualisation to explore how people rated the different accents, and whether people’s backgrounds affected how they felt about people’s accents.
This project would not be possible without the support of the following institutions.