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Women and the economy

Published Wednesday, March 7, 2018

This briefing paper looks at women’s participation in the UK labour market and in business.

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15.1 million women in the UK aged 16 and over were in employment in October-December 2017. The female employment rate was 70.8%, compared to 79.7% for men.

Employment rates for women and men, 1971-2017

8.8 million women were working full-time and 6.3 million were working part-time. 42% of women in employment were working part-time compared to 13% of men.

The most common sectors of employment for women are health and social work (accounting for 20% of all jobs held by women at September 2017), wholesale and retail (14%) and education (12%). Around 78% of jobs in the health and social work sector and 70% of jobs in the education sector were held by women.


Median weekly pay for female full-time employees was £494 in April 2017, compared to £592 for male full-time employees. After adjusting for inflation, median pay for female full-time employees is around 1% below its 2008 level, while median pay for male full-time employees is around 7% lower.

At April 2017, the gender pay gap for median hourly pay excluding overtime was:

  • 9.1% for full-time employees
  • -5.1% for part-time employees (meaning women earned more than men)
  • 18.4% for all employees.

The gender pay gap for all employees is larger than either the full-time or part-time pay gaps. This is because a much higher share of women than men are employed part-time and part-time workers tend to earn less per hour than those working full-time.

Trend in full-time gender pay gap, 1997 to 2017 

Running a business

Around 20% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK with employees were led by women in 2016.

Men are more likely than women to be involved in “total early stage entrepreneurial activity”, which includes owning or running a business less than 3.5 years old.

At February 2018, 29% of directors of FTSE100 companies were women. In the FTSE250 (the next largest 250 listed companies outside the FTSE100), 23% of directors were women.

Commons Briefing papers SN06838

Author: Feargal McGuinness

Topics: Economic situation, Employment, Pay

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