Key points

  • The proportion of women aged 16 to 64 who are not working is much lower than forty years ago whilst the equivalent proportion for men is much higher.  35% of women aged 16 to 64 are now not working compared to 47% forty years ago, a decrease of 12 percentage points.  By contrast, 25% of men aged 16 to 64 are now not working compared to 9% forty years ago, an increase of 16 percentage points.
  • So, while fewer women still work than men, the gap has shrunk from 38 percentage points forty years ago to 10 percentage points now.
  • These trends – of increasing work rates for women and decreasing work rates for men – have been happening throughout the last forty years.  This can be seen from looking at the trends in economic inactivity which, by effectively holding ILO unemployment constant over time, remove the impact of the recessions in the early 1980s and early 1990s.
  • The net result of the differing trends between men and women is that the overall proportion of the working-age population who are economically inactive has actually remained broadly unchanged throughout the last forty years.
  • Whilst the overall difference in work rates between men and women is 10 percentage points, the differences are much less among those aged 18 to 24 (4 percentage points) than in older age groups (10-15 percentage points).

Graph 2: Economically inactive (i.e. not working or unemployed)

Why this indicator was originally chosen

Over the last forty or so years the balance of work between men and women has changed substantially.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the proportion of the population aged 16 to 64 who are not working, with the data shown separately for men and for women.

A problem with the first graph is that the impact of recessions can obscure the underlying trends.  In this context, the second graph shows the proportion of the population aged 16 to 64 who are economically inactive (i.e. neither working nor ILO unemployed), again with the data shown separately for men and for women.  This graph effectively holds ILO unemployment constant over time and thus removes the impact of the recessions in the early 1980s, early 1990s and late 2000s.

The third graph shows, for the latest year, the proportion of the population aged 16 to 49 who are not working by age group and gender.  The equivalent data for those aged 50 to 64 is not shown because it is distorted by the historic differences in retirement ages between men and women (i.e. 60 for women and 65 for men).

The data source for all the graphs is the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and relates to the United Kingdom.  Note that the source of the data used in the graphs is the ONS website rather than the dataset itself.  Also note that the published data is now only available for a fixed age band (i.e. 16 to 64) rather than the retirement-based age band (i.e. 16 to 59/64) that was previously used.

The economically inactive are all those who are neither working nor officially unemployed.  Official unemployment is the ILO definition and comprises those with no paid work in the survey week who were available to start work in the next fortnight and who either looked for work in the last month or were waiting to start a job already obtained.  People are therefore classified as economically inactive if they are both not working and do not at least one of the criteria above.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: high.  The LFS is a large, well-established, quarterly government survey, designed to be representative of the population as a whole.

External links

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Address the disadvantage that individuals experience because of their gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief.

Lead department

Government Equalities Office.

Official national targets

None.

Other indicators of progress

Gender gap in hourly pay.

Level of choice, control and flexibility to enable independent living.

Participation in public life by women, ethnic minorities, disabled people and young people.

Discrimination in employment.

Fairness of treatment by services.

Previous 2004 targets

By 2008, working with all departments, bring about measurable improvements in gender equality across a range of indicators, as part of the Government’s objectives on equality and social inclusion.

The numbers

Graphs 1 and 2

YearProportion not workingProportion economically inactive
MenWomenMen and women combinedMenWomenMen and women combined
19718.6%47.3%28.2%5.1%44.5%25.0%
19728.9%46.8%28.0%5.2%43.9%24.8%
19738.3%45.4%27.1%5.6%42.7%24.3%
19749.1%44.6%27.0%6.3%41.8%24.2%
197510.1%44.4%27.4%6.2%41.4%24.0%
197611.2%44.7%28.1%6.4%41.2%24.0%
197712.0%44.6%28.4%7.1%40.9%24.1%
197812.6%44.1%28.4%7.9%40.3%24.2%
197912.9%43.4%28.2%8.5%39.7%24.2%
198014.8%43.3%29.2%8.8%39.0%23.9%
198118.5%44.4%31.5%9.1%39.0%24.0%
198220.9%45.4%33.2%10.4%39.6%25.0%
198322.3%45.8%34.1%11.5%39.3%25.5%
198421.8%44.5%33.2%11.2%37.2%24.2%
198521.8%43.4%32.6%11.4%36.3%23.9%
198622.1%42.4%32.3%11.8%35.3%23.6%
198721.3%41.0%31.2%11.7%34.3%23.1%
198819.2%39.0%29.1%11.4%33.4%22.4%
198917.7%37.2%27.5%11.2%32.5%21.9%
199017.9%36.7%27.3%11.4%32.0%21.8%
199121.0%37.5%29.3%12.3%32.5%22.4%
199223.8%38.2%31.0%13.6%33.0%23.3%
199324.9%38.2%31.6%14.2%32.8%23.5%
199424.3%37.8%31.1%14.6%32.8%23.8%
199523.6%37.2%30.5%15.0%32.5%23.8%
199623.3%36.5%30.0%15.2%32.1%23.7%
199722.1%35.8%29.0%15.4%31.7%23.6%
199821.6%35.3%28.5%15.7%31.6%23.7%
199921.2%34.7%27.9%15.5%31.0%23.3%
200020.8%34.1%27.5%15.7%30.8%23.3%
200120.8%33.9%27.4%16.0%30.8%23.4%
200221.0%33.7%27.3%16.1%30.5%23.4%
200320.8%33.6%27.2%16.1%30.5%23.3%
200420.8%33.3%27.1%16.4%30.3%23.4%
200521.0%33.2%27.1%16.5%30.1%23.3%
200621.2%33.1%27.2%16.3%29.6%23.0%
200721.2%33.4%27.3%16.4%29.9%23.2%
200821.5%33.2%27.4%16.2%29.5%23.0%
200924.0%34.1%29.1%16.7%29.5%23.1%
201024.5%34.5%29.5%17.1%29.5%23.4%

Graph 3

Age groupProportion not working
MenWomen
18 to 2440%44%
25 to 3415%29%
35 to 4914%24%