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UK - Women ahead of men despite public sector cutbacks

14 December 2011

The recession of 2008-9 is sometimes referred to as a 'mancession' because men were hit relatively hard when it came to jobs. Women accounted for only around a fifth of the fall in employment during the recession and only around a third of the rise in unemployment. But there is a widespread expectation that the opposite will occur in the wake of ongoing large scale public sector downsizing, given that two-thirds of public sector workers are women, and weak consumer demand in private sector services, especially retail, that employ lots of women in part-time jobs.

However, as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) highlights today in its latest Work Audit, official statistics show that while men benefited most during the initial post-recession jobs recovery in 2010, it's been tough for both sexes in the 2011 jobs market and women have actually fared slightly better than men despite public sector cutbacks and a sharp fall in part-time employment:  

  • The female unemployment rate has increased steadily from 6.5% to 7.5% since the end of the recession, with the number of unemployed women reaching a record level of 1.09 million, but in 2011 has fallen very slightly relative to that of men.
  • The gap between the male and female unemployment rate narrowed from 2.5 percentage points to 1.4 percentage points in the first year following the recession but has since widened again to 1.5 percentage points as economic growth has stagnated, with the male unemployment rate (now at 9%) rising back to where it was at the end of the recession.   
  • The number of women in work has fallen steadily throughout 2011 but the number of men in work has fallen even more, with the result that by the third quarter of 2011 the number of women in work was still 32,000 higher than at the end of 2010 while the number of men in work was 86,000 lower. Men, not women, have been hit hardest by the substantial loss of part-time jobs in 2011. 
  • There has been a comparable rise in male and female unemployment in 2011 but for men this was dampened by a fall in the number of men participating in the labour market, whereas for women unemployment has been raised because more women have entered the labour market to look for jobs.

Dr John Philpott, Chief Economic Adviser at the CIPD, commented "as the economy weakens, private sector job creation dries up, public sector job cuts gather pace and unemployment continues to rise, it's far too soon to conclude what will happen to the relative fortunes of men and women in the jobs market in the coming months. Indeed our final view of 2011 may yet alter once we have a full year of data. But what we do know is that the relative position of women has not so far worsened as much as commonly perceived or was widely anticipated given the high concentration of women workers in the public sector and in part-time jobs more generally. This might indicate that the impact of economic austerity will prove to be more gender balanced than at first thought, although it also underlines how tough things are becoming for both sexes in our increasingly depressed jobs market."  

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