Dr John Philpott, Chief Economic Adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) comments in response to widespread misinterpretation of the relative position of men and women in the UK labour market following yesterday’s release of official figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS):

“Reports in much of today’s media that women are at present faring less well than men in the labour market, primarily because of the disproportionate impact of public sector job cuts, are misleading.

“In the year to the final quarter of 2011, a period of considerable public sector downsizing, the number of men in employment fell by 43,000 (-0.3%) while the number of women in employment increased by 50,000 (+0.4%). Focusing solely on employees (i.e. stripping out the rise in self-employment), although the absolute outcome for women is weaker (with a net fall of 2,000 in the number of women employees, which registers as a zero percent annual change) male employees fare much worse (a net fall of 77,000, or -0.6%)

“The corresponding rise in unemployment was near identical for both men and women (up 89,000 and 90,000 respectively). The unemployment rate deteriorated slightly more for women (up from 7.1% to 7.7%) than for men (up from 8.5% to 9%) but this was due to more women entering the labour market rather than a fall in the number of women in work. By contrast, the number of men participating in the labour market fell, without which male unemployment would have been higher. It is true that the rise in female unemployment in the final quarter of 2011 (up 32,000) was higher than that for men (up 16,000) but again this was because an increase in the number of women entering the labour market exceeded an increase in the number of women in employment. It was not the result of fewer women in work.

“It is evident that conditions in the UK labour market are at present tough for both women and men, and there is a clear and severe overall shortage of jobs that needs to be filled. However, it is misleading to say that women are being hit harder than men. This is perhaps surprising given the relatively high concentration of women working in the public sector. Further large scale public sector downsizing may therefore have an adverse impact on female unemployment in the coming months and years. But the current popular narrative suggesting that female employment is already falling and unemployment rising relative to that of men because of the impact of fiscal austerity is not supported by available data.”