Northern Ireland Labour Force Survey – Women in NI

Date published: 08 March 2022

The latest Women in NI statistical publication was released today by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

Stock image of hands on a desk with calculator and charts
Latest Women in NI statistical publication released by NISRA.

The Women in NI release coincides with International Women’s Day 2022, which is a global day celebrating the achievements of women and the theme for 2022 is ‘breaking the bias’.

The publication considers the different labour market experiences of women and men in Northern Ireland. A consistent feature of the labour market is higher economic inactivity rates for females, and higher employment and unemployment rates for males. These features are explored, where the publication contains estimates from the Labour Force Survey, relating to the period July 2020 to June 2021, alongside other applicable data sources.

Key points

Lower number of females are self-employed than males

  • The employment rate for females in NI has been consistently lower than for males over the past ten years. The difference is driven by lower self-employment rates for women compared to men. The number of self-employed males in 2021 was more than two and a half times the number of self-employed females.
  • Females were less likely to work full-time than males. Furthermore, approximately 60 per cent of employed women with dependent children worked full-time, compared to 94 per cent of employed males with dependent children.

On average women earn less than men

  • The gap in female and male earnings has decreased over the past 20 years, and in 2021 females earned 5.7 per cent less than males in NI. The largest gender pay gap across all age groups occurred in the 50 to 59 age group, where men earned almost £2.50 more per hour than women (£15.33 compared to £12.87), and equivalent to a 16.0 per cent pay gap.
  • A lower proportion of females than males received earnings above the Real Living Wage (by 5 percentage points) and females also reported lower levels of opportunities for career progression (by 9pps).

Female economic inactivity rate consistently higher than males over last decade

  • Although the female economic inactivity rate has been declining over the last decade, just under a third of working age women (30.7 per cent) were economically inactive in 2021, compared to just under a quarter of men (23.6 per cent). Inactivity rates for females have been consistently higher than males.
  • The most common reason for inactivity among women (29 per cent) and men (36 per cent) in 2021 was long term sickness. For women the proportion looking after family and home was similar at 28 per cent, which was the least common reason (6 per cent) amongst men.


  • Historically, the Northern Ireland labour market has seen higher rates of employment and unemployment for males and higher rates of economic inactivity for females.
  • The female inactivity rate has been consistently higher than males over the past decade, where the difference in inactivity rates between males and females can be entirely attributed to the difference in the number looking after the family and home. Excluding these numbers from the inactivity totals in 2021 would bring the female inactivity rate slightly below that of males (22.1 per cent for women and 22.3 per cent for men).
  • Women who are working are less likely to be self-employed and are more likely to be working part-time than men. Those females with dependent children were more likely to work full-time where the youngest dependent child is primary or secondary school age, compared to those with pre-school aged children. Overall, females with dependent children of any age were more likely to work part-time than those without, while the opposite was true for males.
  • The higher incidence of part-time working is reflected in work quality indicators with a higher proportion of women working flexible working patterns than men. Work quality data also show lower proportions of women than men earning above the Real Living Wage and agreeing that their job offers opportunities for career progression. Lower earnings by females is also reflected in the gender pay gap. Although the gap in average pay has decreased over the past 20 years, it remains at 5.7 per cent in favour of men, with the largest pay gap shown for the 50-59 age group at 16.0 per cent.

Notes to editors: 

1. The Women in NI publication and associated tables are available on the NISRA website.

2. The Women in NI publication considers the different labour market experiences of women and men in Northern Ireland. The release provides an overview of employment, unemployment, economic inactivity, and work quality.  In addition, labour market experiences of men and women with and without dependent children are examined.

3. This report relies on two separate Labour Force Survey (LFS) datasets - the July 2020 to June 2021 individual annual dataset and the October to December 2020 quarterly household dataset. The July 2020 to June 2021 individual annual dataset is based on 8,000 individuals, while the quarterly household dataset is based on 5,000 individuals. Estimates from both are subject to sampling variability. Estimates from the quarterly dataset are less precise (have larger confidence intervals around them) than estimates from the individual dataset.  Confidence intervals have been included for all of the tables accompanying the graphs in the Women in NI bulletin.

4. Throughout the report, all LFS breakdowns have been created using the ‘sex’ variable. This variable is populated by asking respondents whether their current sex is Male or Female. The ASHE sample is drawn from information on PAYE schemes held by HMRC and sex breakdowns created using ASHE data are based on information from this source.

5. During the 10 year period 2011 to 2021, used for the majority of LFS trend comparisons in this publication, two updates were made to the classification of occupations (SOC). For 2011, the classification changed from SOC2000 to SOC2010 and for 2021 the classification changed from SOC2010 to SOC2020. For both of these years mapping variables were used to enable comparisons to be made across the ten year period 2011 to 2021 on a consistent basis. 

6. More information on the Gender pay gap in Northern Ireland can be found in Section 4 of the Employee earnings in NI 2021 publication on the NISRA website.

7. Following the latest reweighting of LFS estimates in July 2021 which impacted datasets from January 2020, a further reweighting is planned for later in the year. The estimates for NI did not have the non-response bias adjustment from the recent reweighting fully applied and in addition there was a small error in the implementation of the reweighting methodology affecting all UK estimates. We will provide further detail on timelines for the reweighting in due course, where LFS quarterly and annual datasets will be reweighted back to January 2020. Further information on previous reweighting exercises is available within the Further Information section of the Women in NI publication.  

8. The Women in NI publication will be of interest to policy makers, public bodies, the business community, banks, economic commentators, academics, and the general public with an interest in the local economy.

9. To keep up to date with news from the Department you can follow us on the following social media channels:

10. For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office at 

11. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

12. Feedback is welcomed and should be addressed to: Responsible statistician, Mark McFetridge, Economic & Labour Market Statistics (ELMS), or Tel: 028 902 55172.

13. Follow NISRA on Twiter - @NISRA

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