Gender divide as impact of the cost of living crisis deepens for young women

27 September 2023

New data released by Young Women’s Trust shows the stark reality of the cost of living crisis, as the charity warn that young women are on a cliff edge and the gulf between their financial stability and that of young men is widening.

In the latest Costing our Futures report, which surveyed over 4000 young women and 1000 young men, nearly half (46%) of young women said that their finances had got worse over the last 12 months, whilst only 31% of young men said the same. This figure rose considerably for young women from the previous year (38%), whereas for young men there was very little change (30%).

Over three fifths (62%) of young women said that they couldn’t make their cash last to the end of the month compared to under a half of young men (48%). Again, this was a significant increase for young women from last year (54%), whilst there was only a slight increase for young men (44%). As a result of this young women are more likely to be forced into debt (31%) than young men (23%).

At a time in life when young women should be thriving, the survey found that they are struggling and are filled with dread when they think about their finances (58%). In summary:

  • 56% of young women described their current financial situation as uncomfortable. This has increased from 49% in 2022. In comparison, just over 40% of young men said the same both this year and last – so young men’s experience seems to be stabilising whereas young women’s has got substantially worse.
  • Almost a third (32%) of young women have been unable to afford food or essential supplies, up from a quarter last year. This compares to 21% of young men.
  • A quarter of young women have fallen behind on rent or bills in the last 12 months, with only 16% of young men saying the same.

The financial struggle is also meaning career aspirations are being put on the back burner with nearly a third (30%) of young women saying that they are stuck in jobs they don’t enjoy. Some also said that they had no choice but to take a job that they didn’t want in the first place (21%).

For some groups of young women, the statistics paint an even bleaker picture with those on benefits, black young women and young mums being forced into more precarious situations:

  • 70% of young mums agreed that it is a ‘real struggle’ to make their cash last until the end of the month, compared to 62% of the overall sample. This was also higher for young women in receipt of benefits (75%) and for black young women (64%).
  • 27% of black young women have taken a job they didn’t want because they couldn’t afford not to – compared to 20% of white young women and 15% of young men.
  • Inhumane sacrifices are also being made at an astonishing rate with over half of young single mums (51%) saying that sometimes they go hungry so their children can eat. Similarly, 45% of young women in receipt of benefits agreed that sometimes they have to choose between food and heating.
  • Food and essential supplies are unaffordable for over a third (37%) of black young women, nearly half (46%) of young single mums and over half (52%) of young women in receipt of benefits.

Young women are so exposed to the cost of living crisis because they earn £5000 less than young men right from the start of working life[i]. This would cover the average household’s food and energy bills for the entire year and by the age of 25, would add up to the average house deposit for a first-time buyer.

Izy lives in Cornwall but has had to move 12 times in the last year because of the cost of living crisis. She says: “My partner lives in London and I’m over 300 miles away in Cornwall because when you’re self-employed you’re dismissed by letting agencies in the city. After being offered a new job opportunity in London my partner was able to find a place to live but I wasn’t as lucky and had to make the difficult decision to leave and move back home.  Life is like crazy paving – it’s a constant winding road to survive and I can’t put roots down anywhere. I manage to get by but it’s very hard to save. I’m thankful that I can eat but I don’t get to visit friends out of Cornwall that often because of the expense of travel and sadly, the more you say no, the more people stop asking. I’m in a real catch 22 as there could be work for me in London and I could be with my partner – I have actually turned down roles in the past – but the rental requirements don’t position me as a good candidate and I wouldn’t be accepted.” 

Young Women’s Trust is calling for measures to address the underlying inequality that young women face in the world of work, through more robust pay gap reporting and action to tackle it, more support for young women to progress at work, and stronger measures to tackle discrimination. To help all young women who are struggling right now, Young Women’s Trust are calling for the Government to act by: 

  • Going further in the forthcoming extension of the National Living Wage to younger age groups, so that 18 to 20 year olds receive it too.
  • Increasing the amount of support through the benefits system, through an Essentials Guarantee which makes sure the basic rate of Universal Credit is always enough to cover the costs of essentials.
  • Listening to the voices of young women as they create policies to respond to the cost of living crisis.

Claire Reindorp, Chief Executive at Young Women’s Trust said: “The cost of living crisis continues to affect us all, but young women are more likely than young men to be facing it without any sort of safety net, and their financial situation is going from bad to worse.

“If their average annual incomes were the same as young men, young women would be £5,000 better off. They could be paying their bills for the entire year and doing so much more with their lives. The income gap is caused by multiple factors including young women being in lower paid jobs, outright discrimination and a lack of access to the affordable childcare or flexible working they need. Young women are not getting equal chances to make a decent living for themselves and have fewer routes out of financial hardship. It’s vital that our politicians listen to young women and create tailored support to address this inequality – young women’s futures are at stake.”

The full report is available in our Research Centre.


Notes to editors

For more information or interviews please contact:

Hayley Richardson-Roberts, Communication Lead:

07495 981142 /


Our Costing our Futures report surveyed a representative sample of 4,061 18-30 year old young women in England and Wales and a comparison group of 1,049 young men. Fieldwork was carried out between 19 June and 1 July 2023.

About Young Women’s Trust:

Young Women’s Trust champions young women aged 18 to 30 on low or no pay. We’re here to create a more equal world of work and raise young women’s incomes.

We offer young women free coaching, feedback on job applications and information to help them get where they want to be. We bring together a thousands-strong network to support each other, build their self-belief, and have their voices heard. We work with young women and anyone who experiences misogyny and sexism to campaign for equality in the workplace. And our research provides insight into what young women’s lives are really like, fuelling our campaigns for change.