University of Bath

Young female and forgotten?

This study aims to understand the issues faced by high numbers of economically inactive young women in England and to recommend new ways of supporting them.

For over a decade, young women have been more likely than young men to be not in education, employment or training (NEET) and to be NEET and economically inactive (EI). Beyond an assumption that most economically inactive young women are caring for others, there is limited research and policy that addresses this problem. In this two-year study, Young Women’s Trust and Professor Sue Maguire (University of Bath), with the support of Barrow Cadbury Trust, are investigating the reasons why young women are economically inactive. The study enables young women to share their experiences of being economically inactive. It also included five area case studies and has drawn on data from the Labour Force Survey and Understanding Society to build up a profile of economically inactive young women and the factors that lead them to inactivity.

A report of the first year of the study has been published and finds that young women who are economically inactive are far less likely to receive any form of positive support or intervention. While many young women may wish to spend time caring for their children or relatives and may not wish to feel under pressure to (re)join the labour market, the study finds that this needs to be accompanied with access to appropriate support and intervention when it is required. As it stands, findings show that young parents are ‘left alone’ within the benefit system, struggling to make ends meet, until their youngest child reaches the age of five. They are then immediately expected to find work or training if they wish to claim benefits. Many young women feel isolated within their households and communities, detached from external support, suffer from low self-confidence, low self-esteem and, for some, mental health issues which can have long-lasting effects on their health and likelihood of participating in future education, employment or training. The study finds that young women in the NEET economically inactive group need contact and sustained transitional support alongside suitable employment and childcare opportunities.

The second year will focus on young women’s experiences of economic inactivity and bring them together with policy-makers to find ways to help more young women into work. A co-creation event is planned for September 2017 in Westminster.

Research Team

  • Professor Sue Maguire, Honorary Professor, IPR
  • Emma Mckay, Young Women’s Trust