According to academics at Sheffield Hallam and Dundee universities, Britain has 2.6 million incapacity claimants of working age. Nearly 1.1 million of these are women, and among under-60s the number of women claiming incapacity benefits almost equals the number of men.
The report, Women on Incapacity Benefits, shows how these women are concentrated in exactly the same places as men on incapacity benefits, above all in Britain's older industrial areas where incapacity benefits are often claimed by more than one in 10 of all women between the ages of 16 and 59.
Steve Fothergill, a professor at Sheffield Hallam University, said: "It has long been accepted that in the 1980s and 1990s job losses from industries like coal, steel and engineering pushed many men onto incapacity benefits.
"The high numbers of women claiming incapacity benefits in the same places had been a puzzle because job opportunities for women have mostly been increasing, including in Britain's less prosperous areas."
The new research involved an analysis of benefits and employment data and interviews with more than 3,500 incapacity claimants around the country.
The researchers found that the men and women who claim incapacity benefits come from the same segment of the labour market. Around 60% have no formal qualifications, and claimants' previous work experience is overwhelmingly in low-grade manual jobs.
And, according to the researchers, these are the men and women who find it hardest to keep a foothold in a difficult labour market.
Ill health or disability is more or less universal among incapacity claimants - indeed, it is a condition of benefit receipt - but the researchers found only a minority say that they would be unable to do any kind of work in any circumstances. This points towards substantial ‘hidden unemployment'.
Fothergill added: "One of the long-term consequences of job losses among men has been to push more women out of the labour market and on to benefits.
"Unemployed women with poor skills and poor health have ended up on incapacity benefits.
"A twin-track strategy [from the Government] is the only way forward. Most of the women who now claim incapacity benefits will need intensive help, for example, with training if they are to re-engage with the labour market.
"But they also need jobs to be available in the places where so many of them are concentrated. That is primarily a task of economic regeneration in older industrial Britain."