Why has the NEET gender gap disappeared?

The number of people aged 16-24 who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) has fallen by 400,000 over the last five years. Although this was predominantly due to the large decrease in the number of young people who are unemployed, it is also due to a large reduction in the number of women unable to work or participate in education or training as they are either looking after their family or their home.

This has changed the gender breakdown of those who are NEET. Historically more women than men have been NEET, and ten years ago there were 130,000 more women who were NEET than men. Now the number of men and women who are NEET are almost identical.

When is someone classified as NEET?

Someone is NEET if they’re not participating in education or training, and are also either unemployed (people without a job who are actively seeking work) or economically inactive (people who are not working, not seeking work and not available to start work).

In 2011 there were over 1.2 million NEETs; currently there are fewer than 800,000. About 80% of this fall has been due to reductions in unemployment, with large falls for both men and women. Not surprisingly then, since 2011, there have been falls in the number of both men and women who are NEET.

Chart showing than from 2002 to 2017 the gap between the number of men and women who are NEET has reduced to zero

What the unemployment figures do not explain is why the gap between the number of men and women who are NEET has reduced to zero. As unemployment levels have been falling faster for men, based on unemployment alone, the gap should have actually increased.

To understand why the gap has reduced we need to look at the trends for those who are NEET and economically inactive.

More women NEETs are economically inactive than men

Women who are NEET are more likely to be economically inactive than men. Around 70% of the women who are NEET are economically inactive, compared to about half of the men who are NEET.

This is primarily because women are more likely to be looking after their family or their home, and as a result haven’t been able to work, or participate in education or training. Currently around a third of women who are NEET are inactive for this reason, compared to only 2% of men who are NEET.

But the number of women NEETs who are economically inactive is falling

Until relatively recently the number of women who are NEET and economically inactive was considerably higher than the number of men who were likewise. In the last quarter of 2014, the difference was over 200,000.

As the chart below shows, since 2014 the number of women has been falling while the number of men has been increasing.

Chart showing that since 2014 the number of women has been falling while the number of men has been increasing.

The number of women who are inactive as they have been either looking after their family or their home has decreased

The main reason why there was a fall for women is because of a significant decrease in the number of women who are inactive as they are either looking after their family or their home.

In 2012, the number of women who were inactive for this reason averaged around 270,000. In 2016 this had fallen to 150,000, a reduction of 120,000 women.

Chart showing that in 2012, the number of women who were inactive for this reason averaged around 270,000. In 2016 this had fallen to 150,000, a reduction of 120,000 women.

But the reverse hasn’t led to the increase in activity among men

The number of men who are economically inactive as they are looking after their family or their home has also fallen over the last few years so this hasn’t caused the increase in economic inactivity for men.

Economic inactivity in men has increased for a number of reasons, one being a large increase in the number of men who were either long term sick or disabled. Between 2014 and 2016 the average number who were inactive for this reason increased by over 20,000, an increase of 37%.

What has happened since 2016?

The gender gap narrowed to zero in the middle of 2016, but since then the number of men who are NEET and economically inactive has stopped increasing, and the number of women has stopped decreasing. As a result, over the last year, the number of men and women who are NEET have been at similar levels.

Policy makers will need to take account of the various groups that make up those who are NEET when considering future policies to reduce NEET levels. Otherwise we may see further changes to the gender breakdown of those who are NEET.

 

Our briefing paper NEET: Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training contains further statistics and information on NEETs.

The statistics used in this blog have been taken from the ONS Labour Force Survey.