Knowledge Center

Women in the Workforce: UK


The UK’s Population Is Growing Older...1

As of March 2018, the United Kingdom’s total population was estimated to be 65,648,100.2

  • Over one-sixth (18.0%) of the UK’s population was aged 65 years or older in 2017.3

  • By 2046, it is predicted that nearly a quarter of the population will be 65 or older.4

The working-age population (ages 16 and older) is expected to rise from 40.8 million in 2016 to 44.0 million in 2041, an increase of 7.8%.5


...and More Multicultural
  • The percentage of residents identifying as non-white has been increasing since the 1991 census.6

Future migration accounts for over three-quarters (77%) of the UK’s projected population increase.7

  • Beyond the indirect effects of migration on births and deaths, from 2016 to 2041, over half (54%) of the projected population increase is directly attributable to net international migration.8

  • Migrants in the workforce are, on average, younger and better educated than their UK-born counterparts.9

  • Women made up a small majority (52%) of the UK’s migrant population in 2015.10


In 2016, slightly more women (46.4%) than men (45.5%) aged 25–6411 had completed tertiary education.12

  • Among younger people (aged 25–34), the difference between the percentage of women and men attaining tertiary education is greater: 53.4% for women compared to 50.6% of men .13
  • Women are underrepresented in STEM fields. In 2015, only 37% of students beginning tertiary education in STEM fields were women.14

Among adults with a tertiary education, women earn 77% of what men earn in the same field and role.15 


Labour Force

Women’s Representation in the Labour Force Is Steadily Increasing16

More women are working than before. Today, over 70% of women aged 16–64 are employed, this percentage has increased from slightly over half (53%) in 1971.17

  • In comparison, 79.8% of men aged 16–64 are working today.18

Women represent just under half (46.5% in 2017) of the total labour force in the UK.19

  • Women who migrate from Asian countries face significantly lower employment rates than migrant male or UK-born female workers.20

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%).21

Women Employed Full-Time Are Still Paid Less Than Men22

The gender pay gap for full- and part-time workers combined in the United Kingdom was 18.4% in 2017—meaning that women currently make approximately 80% of men’s median hourly wages.23

More women work part-time than men, but men experienced the most growth in part-time wages (3.3%).24 


The UK Offers a Year-Long Maternity Leave25

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 are mandatory.26

In contrast, only 1–2 weeks of paid leave are offered to fathers.27

  • 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for both mothers and fathers are also available for each child and adopted child.28

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.29


All UK employees—not just parents or those with caregiving responsibilities—have the legal right to ask for flexible working arrangements after 26 weeks of employment.30
  • In 2016, almost two-thirds (63%) of working women used flexible work arrangements, compared to 44% of working men.31

Women’s Rising Pension Age Will Keep Them in the Labour Force32

As of 2018, the UK’s state pension age is 65 for both women and men, rising from the age of 63 for women in 2016.33 The state pension age will increase again in 2020 to age 66 for men and women.34 These changes are expected to contribute to an increase in labour force participation for women.35

  • A higher percentage of women live in poverty than men do, with the largest gap (1.9%) measured since 2008.36


There Are More Women on UK Boards Than Ever Before37

Today, there are only 8 all-male boards in the FTSE 250.38

  • From 2007 to 2017, women’s board representation in FTSE 100 companies increased from 11% to 28%.39

The percentage of women in senior leadership roles has remained low, slightly rising to 22% in 2018.40

  • Over one-third (36%) of legislators, senior officials, and managers are women.41


Parliament Has Not Reached Gender Parity42

Women hold 208 out of 650 seats (32.0%) in the House of Commons, and just 207 out of 805 seats (25.7%) in the House of Lords.43

Additional Resources

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

Cranfield School of Management, Gender and Leadership.

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

McKinsey, The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in the United Kingdom (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 Workforce UK (April 24, 2018).