The British Council: Social development and gender

Information on Women in the UK

Gender focus on the United Kingdom

Each year, the Statistics Unit of the Equal Opportunities Commission produces a pamphlet which aims to give a broad picture of the relative position of women and men in the UK. The first in this series of gender profiles in network newsletter focuses on the UK and draws on the statistics in the 1995 pamphlet, as well as the UK Report for the Fourth World Conference on Women.

Women's economic activity rates

The resident population of the UK is 56.6 million. 51 per cent female (reflecting the higher life expectancy of women). The economic activity rate for women of working age (16-59) in the UK has increased from 63 per cent in 1979 to 71 per cent in 1994. That for men of working age (16-64) has fallen from 91 per cent to 85 per cent in the same period. The UK has the second highest rate in the European Union for women's participation in employment (Denmark takes the lead). The number of women in the workforce in 1995 actually exceeded the number of men.

Yet 43 per cent of working women are employed on part-time contracts, with less pay and fewer employment rights. The proportion of women working full-time has actually decreased from 55.6 per cent in 1984 to 54.6 per cent in 1993.

Differential earnings

In 1975 women full-time employees earned 71 per cent of the earnings of their male counterparts (excluding overtime). The ratio increased to 73 per cent by 1984. In 1994 women were earning 80 per cent of the wages of their male counterparts. Yet women are significantly over-represented in the lowest income groups. In the 1991 census, 76 per cent of people in the lowest tenth were women, whilst 83 per cent in the highest tenth were men.

On average, full-time employed men work four hours longer per week than full-time female employees. Surveys show that women still do more than twice the amount of housework and childcare (1992 average: 46 hours per week by full-time working women and 26 by full-time working men).

Job segregation

Job segregation is a feature of women's participation in the labour market. Women still tend to work in a more limited range of occupations than men. 83 per cent of women work in service industries, compared with 56 per cent of men. 32 per cent of managers and administrators are women (68 per cent men); 31 per cent of medical practitioners (69 per cent of men); 85 per cent of primary and nursery school teachers; 89 per cent of nurses; 16 per cent of computer operators; 12 per cent of police officers; 93 per cent of care assistants and attendants; 87 per cent of retail cash desk and checkout operators; and four per cent of drivers of road goods and vehicles.

Roughly equal numbers of men and women are headteachers of nursery and primary schools (yet only 12 per cent of all nursery and primary teachers are men). Just over one in four secondary school head teachers are women (with the male/female ratio of teachers roughly equal).

All girls up to the age of 16 are required to study science, technology and maths under the National Curriculum in England and Wales. And girls are outperforming boys in science subject examinations at age 16 and 18. Women now take up around half of all further, higher education and university places. 60 per cent of full-time university students in medicine, dentistry and allied subjects are women; 60 per cent of students in biological sciences; 25 per cent in maths; 14 per cent in engineering and technology; 49 per cent in social studies; and 43 per cent in business and financial studies.

Women's participation in public life

The UK Report to the Fourth Conference on Women states 'Women's representation on local authorities and on other public bodies has increased to around one in four and one in three places respectively. Representation of women and hence their scope for influence in key decision-making areas in national Parliamentary posts, in the judiciary and in international affairs, remains limited.'

Only 18.43 per cent of MPs are women, 120 out of a total of 651. There are some notable firsts: Betty Boothroyd is the first female Speaker. Over 18 per cent of MPs in the European Parliament are women, and 25 per cent of European Commissioners. In local Government, 25 per cent of Councillors are women.

In 1986 UK women held 19 per cent of public appointments; in 1993 this figure was 28 per cent. Yet only five per cent of Grade I Civil Servants are women; eight per cent of Grade II; and 10 per cent of Grade III Civil Servants. In 1994, women accounted for only three of the 150 ambassadors/heads of mission overseas. In the England and Wales Judiciary, four per cent of judges in the High Court are women, six per cent of circuit judges, 47 per cent of lay and 12.6 per cent of stipendary magistrates.

The UK Government and opposition parties are committed to working to improve the position of women as illustrated in many of the above statistics. New priorities for action are outlined in the UK report to the Fourth World Conference on Women. For further information on this and the UK national gender machinery, please contact the Gender Team in the British Council Manchester.


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© The British Council 1997

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