House of Commons Library

Women and the economy

Published Friday, March 8, 2019

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

Jump to full report >>


15.3 million women in the UK aged 16 and over were in employment in October-December 2018. The female employment rate was 71.4%, which is the highest it has been since comparable records began in 1971. The male employment rate was 80.3%.

9.0 million women were working full-time and 6.3 million were working part-time. 41% 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 21% of all jobs held by women at September 2018), wholesale and retail (14%) and education (12%). 79% 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 £509 in April 2018, compared to £609 for male full-time employees. After adjusting for inflation, median pay for female full-time employees was similar to its 2008 level, while median pay for male full-time employees is around 7% lower.

At April 2018, the gender pay gap for median hourly pay excluding overtime was:

  • 8.6% for full-time employees
  • -4.4% for part-time employees (meaning women earned more than men)
  • 17.9% 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.


Running a business

19% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK with employees were led by women in 2017.

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.

In June 2018, 29% of directors of FTSE100 companies were women. In the FTSE250 (the next largest 250 listed companies outside the FTSE100), 24% of directors were women.

Commons Briefing papers SN06838

Author: Andy Powell

Topics: Economic situation, Employment, Pay

Share this page