· 2 min read · News

Women's role in the economy transformed since 1992

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The number of female workers in the UK has risen by 4.3 million in the last 30 years, a report by the Resolution Foundation and the Centre for Economic Performance found.

Almost all of this growth is accounted for by employment growth in high-quality jobs, the Changing Jobs? report found. 


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The last 30 years has seen drastic change in the economy.

It has switched from one of 'polarisation' in the 1990s, where the number of both low-paid and high-paid jobs increases, to an economy of occupational 'upgrading', where jobs growth has been highest in high-paid roles.

A consistent trend has been the strong growth of higher-paying jobs, the report concluded.

This trend has been particularly pronounced for women. Almost all (3.9 million out of 4.3 million) of women's jobs in the UK can be accounted for by growth in the three top occupation groups: managers and directors, professional, and associate professional occupations.

The report added: “Apart from ‘caring and leisure service occupations’, where female employment has grown by 0.9 million since 1992, female employment in other ‘lower’ level occupations has fallen, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of overall female employment.”

Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of gender equality charity The Fawcett Society, told HR Magazine that while the news was positive, there's more work to do for women to get on an equal footing with men in the workplace.

She said: "It’s great to see that employment has grown for women over the course of decade, and particularly good to see growth in senior roles. 

“But overall, women remain more likely to be working in low-paid roles, to bear the brunt of balancing work and unpaid care roles, and to be paid less than their male peers. 

She argued many women are therefore not achieving their full potential – and thus the economy misses out on vital skills and talent. 

Olchawski added: “To continue and speed up progress we need affordable high-quality childcare, parental leave policies that genuinely encourage men to take on caring roles, and flexible working embedded in our work culture."

Structural change within the economy (the rate at which different sectors grow or shrink) has also fallen significantly since the 1970s and 1980s.

This means that workers are now moving jobs at a significantly slower rate than they used to. 

Between 2000 and 2019, the report found the proportion of workers moving jobs fell from 3.2% per quarter to 2.4%, a drop of 25%.

The proportion of those moving sector fell from 1.7% to 1.1%, representing a 35% fall.

Young workers were more likely to change occupations when moving jobs. When older workers do change occupation, however, they were much more likely to move to a job involving completely different tasks to their old job.

Similarly, the type of work plays a part in job mobility. The report found workers from hospitality and retail move jobs at around three times the rate of workers from public administration.

A Government Equality Hub spokesperson told HR Magazine: “We welcome the positive findings of this report as we continue to build back better from the pandemic.

“This government is committed to levelling up all parts of our country, working to tackle inequality and promoting equality of opportunity so everyone can thrive.”

They added: “We will shortly put forward a range of measures to advance equality for women at work, increasing opportunity, and tackling the issues that are holding women back as we look to ensure that everyone can reach their full potential."