Press Release: CPP finds that halving the full-time employment gap between men and women could add a further 2.6 million women in full-time work

10 June 2021

5 minute read

  • Just one third of women (34.4%) with two children found to be in full-time employment, compared with almost three quarters of men (83.4%).
  • Among older groups, less than half of women (37.8%) were found to be in work compared with two thirds of men (63%).
  • Just three in ten women educated to GCSE level or lower (30.4%) work fulltime, compared to six out of ten men (58.5%)

New research from the Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP) reveals that despite the promise of choice for women returning to work after having children, few are able to choose full time work. Tackling the barriers to full time work – particularly the affordability and flexibility of childcare – would allow millions more women opportunities to enhance their earnings, boost family finances and fulfil their career potential.

The report: “Women in the labour market: the full-time deficit, finds that women with children, older women, and women with fewer qualifications have far lower rates of full-time employment than their male counterparts. A supporting essay by demography expert Norma Cohen demonstrates that affordable childcare will be crucial in bringing these-left behind groups into the workforce, and should be a cornerstone of the country’s post-pandemic plans.

The research reveals a problem at the heart of our society and labour market -– when it comes to the world of work, women have less choice and fewer opportunities for career progression than men. Addressing this inequality would contribute significantly to the UK’s inclusive economic recovery and levelling up agenda. For example, halving the full-time employment gap between men and women would mean a further 2.6 million women in full-time work.

In her essay for CPP, Norma Cohen argues that affordable childcare is critical to levelling up employment and pay among those left behind groups as the pandemic abates, with UK parents facing amongst the highest costs across developed countries. Failure to provide affordable childcare keeps women out of the workforce for longer than they might choose otherwise, limiting women’s ability to progress up the career ladder and earn wages in line with their male counterparts.

Cohen’s piece notes that, while the percentage of women who are not in work due to domestic pressures has halved between 1993 and 2019, it remains the single biggest reason why women are economically inactive (26.2%), and is significantly higher than the equivalent proportion of inactive men who look after the family or home (6.2%).1

Cohen argues that, as we look to build back better after the pandemic, access to affordable childcare will be one of the most important supports for maternal employment. It will go some way towards closing the yawning gulf between mens' and womens' pay. The economic windfall from higher female workforce participation will help the Treasury recoup the costs of the crisis.'

Dean Hochlaf, Research Analyst, Centre for Progressive Policy, says:

“Despite rising participation rates, there remain staggering gaps in full-time employment between men and women. This reflects institutional barriers at work, as well as deep gender divisions within society that diminishes the employment opportunities of millions of women. Not only does the ‘full time deficit’ dampen women’s earnings today, it limits their ability to save for a proper pension for the future.

Currently, many women are stuck in a trap of low-paid, part time and often insecure jobs, but where the costs and other barriers to increasing their hours or looking for higher quality employment are too high. For the sake of an inclusive economic recovery from the pandemic and the wider ambition of levelling up the UK, we need to ensure that women have a genuine choice to pursue full-time work, regardless of their social or economic background.”

Norma Cohen, says:

“The pandemic has exacerbated the importance of the childcare sector for women at working age who are too often excluded from career opportunities and economic growth. If the government is serious about levelling up the country and offering opportunities to everyone, affordable childcare needs to be a cornerstone of the agenda. Closing the employment and earning gaps between men and women would provide a significant economic windfall for households as well as wider society.”

Notes to the editor

  1. The report can be found here. For enquiries, please contact Thomas Hauschildt,
  2. The research programme: Over the coming months, CPP will launch a series of research reports examining the policies required to close the workforce gap between women and men with accessible and affordable childcare being a core focus of this programme of work.
  3. About CPP: The Centre for Progressive Policy is a think tank committed to making inclusive economic growth a reality. By working with national and local partners, our aim is to devise effective, pragmatic policy solutions to drive productivity and shared prosperity in the UK. Inclusive growth is one of the most urgent questions facing advanced economies where stagnant real wages are squeezing living standards and wealth is increasingly concentrated. CPP believes that a new approach to growth is needed, harnessing the best of central and local government to shape the national economic environment and build on the assets and opportunities of place. The Centre for Progressive Policy is funded by Lord Sainsbury and hosts the Inclusive Growth Network.