No Country for Young Women: the issues
We have a big job to do to tackle the workplace inequalities that hold women back.
Last month we released a report, No Country for Young Women, which clearly shows that young people (aged 18 to 30) and particularly young women are struggling with major financial, work and housing problems.
The report contains shocking statistics, which demonstrate that debt and job insecurity are taking their toll on the well-being of young people. Their optimism is being eroded and they are living in a state of “suspended adulthood”, putting off having children and unable even to rent a room.
High numbers of young people are struggling to make their cash last until the end of the month (39% of young women and 27% young men). 8% of young parents reported using a food-bank because they couldn’t afford to buy food. 25% of young women and 21% of young men said they are in debt all of the time. And they don’t hold out much hope of paying off debts.
In fact, they thought it was far more likely that humans will have landed on Mars by the time they are 40 (46%) than that they will be debt free (30%).
So, why do we have this crisis among young people?
Pay and job security are major issues, especially for young women and parents.
There is a gender pay gap at all ages. The TUC has shown that women are earning more than 8% less from the age of 18-30. Our research found that over 30% of young women have been offered zero hour contracts and 23% have been paid less than the minimum wage.
Apprenticeships should be an inclusive way of opening opportunities for young people but other research conducted by Young Women’s Trust shows that there is a wide apprentice gender gap. As apprentices, young men earn 21% more per hour than young women, are more likely to secure work at the end of their apprenticeship and receive more training.
The explanations for the disparity as apprentices and in employment are, in my view, similar.
Persistent gender segregation remains at breath-taking levels given we are in the 21st century. For example, in engineering apprenticeships 25 men start compared to 1 woman and this figure is 74:1 in plumbing. This level of segregation is not just apparent in apprenticeships. Young women are under-represented in STEM-related jobs, which have job security and higher salaries; women are over-represented in low-paid and insecure work such as caring and cleaning.
It is important to remember too that worklessness disproportionately affects young people. The most recent figures show that 13.6% of young people are unemployed compared to a national average of 4.9%. These unemployment figures do not include those who are considered to be economically inactive (i.e. not considered to be actively seeking work). There were 274,000 young women aged 16-24 who were economically inactive last quarter, and far fewer young men (179,000).
Despite common assumptions, Young Women’s Trust research has shown that 95% of young women who are not in employment, education or training say having a paid job is important to them. This makes us worried that the talents and aspirations of almost a third of a million young women are going to waste because they can’t get the support they need from Job Centre Plus, or find jobs with the right hours and pay to make it financially feasible for them to work.
The challenges facing young people are affecting their wellbeing. More young women (38%) than young men (32%) say they are worried about their mental health and more than half of young women say they lack self-confidence (54% compared to 39% of young men).
At Young Women’s Trust we provide coaching for young women and this undoubtedly improves their well-being and confidence and reminds them of the skills and strengths they possess. But we need to be careful not to draw the conclusion that young people’s challenges will be overcome by offering each of them an individual education or mental health intervention.
Very often, the loss of confidence is a normal and understandable reaction to lack of opportunities, to submitting hundreds of job applications but hearing nothing, and to insurmountable financial challenges.
At Young Women’s Trust we think that there are systemic things that can be done, both for apprentices and in relation to work.
Nearly every time I talk about the crisis that is facing our young people and the associated risks to our economy someone asks, “Is it about social media?” This is not about social media. It is about a short-sighted view of the vast inequalities that have established themselves in our society. They are not going to go away if we do nothing.
Dr Carole Easton
Chief Executive, Young Women’s Trust
Young Women’s Trust supports and represents young women with a focus on those on low or no pay. As well as research and campaigning we provide coaching and job application advice to young women to help them take steps towards quality work.