Employment inequalities: trends over thirty years

Publication type

Conference Paper




Publication date

September 14, 2007


The total number of people in employment is higher now than it was in the mid-1970s. But changes in the distribution of work leave many more families with no job and no earnings.

About two million adults are in work today, who would probably not have had a job in the mid-1970s. They are mainly mothers, especially those with adequate qualifications, good health, and a working partner.

On the other hand, there are another two million adults who would have had a job thirty years ago, but are now out of work. They are mainly disabled men, with poor educational qualifications, and no working partner.

These two trends have combined to increase the polarity between the work-rich (families with two jobs) and the work-poor (families with no job). The proportion of work-poor has doubled from 7 per cent to 14 per cent over 30 years. Most of them live on social security benefits, and have very low incomes.

This paper is based on original analysis of the sequence of General Household Surveys over a thirty year period - 1974-2003. Estimates of trends in the ‘employment penalties’ associated with gender and family position, disability, age and ethnic group show how the social division of labour has changed over three decades - with some potentially surprising conclusions for the analysis of inequality.

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