ESRI – Labour Gender Disparities Across the Island of Ireland

10th April 2024

Posted In: Be In The Frame

A new study published as part of a research programme between the Department of the Taoiseach’s Shared Island Unit and the ESRI sheds light on the persistent gender disparities in labour market participation and working conditions in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Drawing on data for 2022 and a consultation with stakeholders, it assesses barriers to employment and highlights significant differences in low pay, working from home, and hours of work between women and men in the two jurisdictions.

Labour Market Participation 

•Levels of labour market participation are lower for both women and men in Northern Ireland compared to Ireland,

with female labour force participation at 76% in Ireland and 72% in Northern Ireland.

Differences in education attainment account for much of the differences across jurisdictions.

•Having young children reduces labour market participation among women to the same extent in both jurisdictions. However, women in Northern Ireland with older children were less likely to participate than their counterparts in Ireland.

•Being a lone parent reduces labour market participation in both jurisdictions but operates as a stronger barrier in Northern Ireland.

•Older age is also a stronger barrier to participation for women in Northern Ireland.

Gender Differences in Working Conditions 

•One quarter of women and 18% of men in Ireland, and 21% of women and 14% of men in Northern Ireland were classified as low-paid, earning less than two-thirds of the median hourly pay.

Even taking account of factors such as education, sector, and age, women in both Ireland and Northern Ireland were consistently more likely to be low-paid compared to men. Notably, higher education offered strong protection against low pay in both jurisdictions.

Working from home became more prevalent post-pandemic, though to a greater extent in Ireland. In 2022, 25% of women and men in Ireland, and 14% of women and 19% of men in Northern Ireland, were working ‘mainly from home’. Women in Northern Ireland were less likely to work from home, which is due to their over-representation in jobs in health, education and front-line public administration and part-time jobs.

•There are also disparities in hours of work across jurisdictions. Those living in Ireland work longer hours than those living in Northern Ireland.

Women were significantly more likely to work part-time than men in both jurisdictions but rates are significantly higher for women in Northern Ireland.

Policy Implications

Education is crucial for enhancing job prospects and is a key policy lever.

Increasing educational attainment and reducing early school-leaving is especially important in Northern Ireland, where the proportion of individuals with higher qualifications is lower than in Ireland. Access to lifelong learning initiatives is useful to address inequalities experienced by older women.

The gendered nature of care responsibilities poses challenges for women’s access to high-quality employment and is a common feature in both jurisdictions.

Access to affordable early childhood care and education remains a key issue as well as expanding after-school care for parents with older children.

Lone parents face significant obstacles in gaining quality, well-paid employment.

Despite greater emphasis on job activation in the UK welfare system, lone mothers in Northern Ireland are less likely to be in the labour market. This points to issues beyond welfare disincentives, such as the availability of childcare. Tackling low pay among lone parents is vital to ensure that they are not activated into in-work-poverty.

Welcoming the report Minister Roderic O’Gorman said: “I welcome the launch today of the latest ESRI Shared Island report which provides a timely examination of the factors that affect labour market participation and working conditions for women and men in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

When it comes to participation in the labour market, it’s been clear for a long time that women face far greater obstacles than men.

This paper provides an important empirical examination of the factors at play across the island of Ireland.

The Government will continue to work to deepen gender equality. In doing so, we want to take every opportunity there is to do that in a joined-up and collaborative way across the island, working with the Northern Ireland Executive.”

Report Author, Garance Hingre.

Report author Garance Hingre noted: “Labour market inclusion is a key component of gender equality. Women experience common disadvantages in the labour market across the island of Ireland. Yet the scale and nature of gender differences are also shaped by national policies and demographics.

Comparing neighbouring systems offers an opportunity for mutual policy learning.”