Knowledge Center

Women in the Workforce: UK


The UK’s Population Is Growing Older and More Multicultural1

As of July 2015, the United Kingdom’s total population was estimated to be 64,088,222.2

  • Just over one-sixth (17.7%) of the UK’s population are 65 years or older.3

  • The elderly population is projected to increase to19 million by 2050.4

The working-age population (ages 16 and older) is expected to rise from 40 million in 2014 to 44.6 million in 2039, an increase of 11.4%.5

Future migration accounts for two-thirds (68%) of the UK’s projected population increase.6

  • From 2014-2039, the projected population increase is attributable either directly (51%) or indirectly (17%) to future migration based on its effect on births and deaths.7

  • Migrants in the workforce are, on average, younger and better educated than their UK-born counterparts.8

  • Women made up a small majority (54%) of the UK’s migrant population in 2014.9

Women Are Starting Families Later10
  • Women, on average, marry at 32 years of age.11

  • The average age of women at childbirth was 30.2 in 2014, in contrast with 27.7 in 1990.12


Slightly More Women Than Men Are Getting University Degrees13

The gender gap in higher education is narrowing. As of 2015, 43% of all women in the UK have completed tertiary education,14 compared to 41% of men.15 Slightly more than half of young women (aged 25–34) attained tertiary education, compared to 47% of young men.16

  • Women are underrepresented in STEM fields. In 2012, only 19% of computing and 23% of engineering graduates were women.17

Labour Force

Women’s Representation in the Labour Force Is Steadily Increasing18

More women are working than before. Today, over two-thirds of women aged 16-64 are employed, rising from a slightly over half (53%) in 1971.19

  • Employment rates for men are declining. Only 79% of men aged 16-64 are working today, a sharp decrease from 92% in 1971.20

Women represent just under half (46% in 2014) of the total labour force in the UK.21

  • Women who migrate from Asian countries face significantly lower employment rates than migrant male or UK-born women workers.22

The majority of mothers work. In 2014, almost as many women with children (74.1%) participated in the labour force as women with no children (75%).23


Women Are Still Paid Less Than Men24

The gender pay gap for full- and part-time workers in the United Kingdom was 19.2% in 2015—meaning that women currently make approximately 80% of men’s median hourly wages.25

  • Among the top 10% of earners, the majority are men. Women are more likely to be among the top earners when they are under or close to age 30 (the average age of women at childbirth).26

More women (41%) work part-time than men (11%). On average, part-time employees earn less, per hour, than full-time workers.27


The UK Offers a Year-Long Maternity Leave28

The UK’s Statutory Maternity Leave (SMP) is 52 weeks: 26 weeks of regular leave and 26 weeks of additional leave. The first two weeks of leave after birth is mandatory.29

  • Mothers receive up to 39 weeks of pay under SMP. For the first 6 weeks, they are entitled to 90% of average weekly earnings. For the next 33 weeks, they can receive 90% of their average weekly earnings or £139.58—whichever is lower.30

In contrast, only 1–2 weeks of paid leave are offered to fathers.31

  • 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for both mothers and fathers are also available for each child and adopted child until her or his eighteenth birthday.32

As of April 2015, the UK offers Shared Parental Leave and Statutory Shared Parental Pay for any parent, allowing those eligible to take leave in separate blocks rather than in one period of time.33


Flexible Work Is Now an Option for UK Employees34

All UK employeesnot just parents or those with caregiving responsibilitieshave the legal right to ask for flexible working arrangements after 26 weeks of employment.35

  • In 2012, more than three-fourths (77%) of working women used flexible work arrangements, compared to 70% of working men.36

Women’s Rising Pension Age Will Keep Them in the Labour Force37

In 2016, the UK’s current state pension age is 63 for women and 65 for men.38 The state pension age will increase gradually until 2020, when it will be the same for men and women at 66.39 This is expected to contribute to an increase in labour force participation for women.40

  • Women represent over two-thirds of pensioners living in poverty (under 60% of the median household income).41


There Are More Women on UK Boards Than Ever Before42

Today, there are no all-male boards in the FTSE 100 and only 15 in the FTSE 250.43

  • The number of women represented on FTSE 350 boards has doubled since 2011 (a combined total of 21.9%), with 26.1% currently on FTSE 100 boards and 19.6% on FTSE 250 boards.44

  • The UK improved its board gender parity through setting voluntary targets rather than legislating quotas, as other European countries have done.45

Women’s representation in managerial and senior leadership roles is slightly higher than the EU average.46

  • Over one-third (35%) of legislators, senior officials, and managers are women.47


Gender Parity Has Not Been Reached in Parliament48

Women hold 191 out of 650 seats (29.4%) in the House of Commons, and just 192 out of 782 seats (24.6%) in the House of Lords.49

Additional Resources

Catalyst, Quick Take: Statistical Overview of Women in the Workforce.

Centre for Women & Democracy, Sex & Power: Who Runs Britain? 2015 (2015).

EY, EY Senior Civil Service Women’s Leadership Index 2016 – UK (2016).

Liam Foster, Martin Heneghan, Jemima Olchawksi, and Polly Trenow, Closing the Pension Gap: Understanding Women’s Attitudes to Pension Saving (Fawcett Society, April 2016).

Jemima Olchawski, Parents, Work and Care: Striking the Balance (Fawcett Society, March 2016).


How to cite this product: Catalyst. Quick Take: Women in the Labour Force in the UK. New York: Catalyst, August 9, 2016.