Women in the labour market in Northern Ireland

Date published: 18 December 2018

The following publication considers the different labour market experiences of women and men in Northern Ireland.

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A consistent feature of the labour market is higher unemployment and employment rates for males and higher inactivity rates for females. Using the Labour Force Survey quarterly and household datasets, these features are explored. Data is not seasonally adjusted.

  • The employment rate for males in NI has been consistently higher than for females over the past ten years. Although the number of employees in NI is evenly split between males and females, the number of self-employed males is more than double the number of self-employed females.
  • The unemployment rate for males in NI has been consistently higher than for females over the past ten years. At July-September 2018, two-thirds of the unemployed were male and one-third were female.
  • Over the past ten years there have consistently been more economically inactive women than men. At July-September 2018 a third of working age women were economically inactive, compared to 23 per cent of men.
  • The most common reason for inactivity among women was family and home commitments, while the most common reason for men was sickness or disability. (LFS July-September 2018)
  • Economic activity rates were lowest for women with a youngest dependent child of pre-school age.
  • The full report is available on the NISRA website.


Women make up half of the working age population. However a third of working age women are not in the labour force. The main reason for women being outside of the labour force (economically inactive) is looking after the family/home. In contrast, this is the least likely reason for economic inactivity for males.

An analysis of Labour Force Survey data shows that for women with children, economic inactivity rates are highest for those whose youngest child is of pre-school age. This has the greatest impact on the inactivity rate of women aged 25-34 years, the age grouping with the highest proportion of mothers of pre-school age children.

Conversely, economic activity rates are highest for males of this age with more than 90% of men of this age in the labour force. Women are most likely to be economically active during the ages of 35-49 years. At these ages approximately four-fifths of women are in the labour market (working or looking for work). 

Women continue to be much more likely to work part-time hours than a man, and if employed are likely to have a job in the service sector, particularly the public administration, education and health sectors.

Notes to editors: 

1. For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office on 028 9052 9604 or email pressoffice@economy-ni.gov.uk . Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.

2. Follow us on Twitter @Economy_NI

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