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TO THE POINT
160412 Economic inactivity by gender
  • Repeat… Previously on To The Point, we looked at the people who are neither employed nor unemployed, but are classed as economically inactive. Their number, as a proportion of the working age population, has remained fairly constant over the past couple of decades, with a slight decline in recent years – but that’s when we consider them as a single mass. A few more pronounced trends emerge when they are separated according to gender.
  • …and recast. The above chart does exactly that. It compares the inactivity rates among men, at five year intervals over the past 20 years, with those among women. There’s quite a difference. According to the latest set of figures, for December of last year, 16.3 per cent of working age men count as economically inactive, against 27.2 per cent of women.
  • The gap now. Most of this 10.9 percentage-point gap is explained by the dark, dark blue parts of the chart, showing those who are economically inactive because they are looking after a home or their family. 1.2 per cent of working age men occupy this category, compared to 9.8 per cent of working age women. In terms of actual numbers, that’s 244,071 men and 2,011,929 women.
  • The gap then. But the latest figures aren’t all of the story. The gaps between men and women have actually been closing over the past two decades. Back in December 1995, 15 per cent of working age men were economically inactive, compared to 32.1 per cent of women; a difference of 17.1 percentage points, or 6.2 percentage points larger than the equivalent figure for 2015. This, again, is largely explained by the homemaking. The proportion of women looking after their family or home was about five percentage points higher in those middle years of the Nineties.
  • Policy effects. The chart reveals other changes: a recent decline in the proportion of women retiring before age 65; an increase in the proportion of students between 2000 and 2010… and so on. What strikes me is how many of these could, at least in part, be attributable to government legislation. Sure, the wider culture has played its part. But so too have policies such as the rising pension age for women, and New Labour’s efforts to make everyone go to university.

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