Young women’s unpaid work worth £140 billion

New analysis of ONS data by Young Women’s Trust has found the unpaid work of young women aged 18 to30, such as cooking, cleaning and taking care of children, contributes at least £140 billion to the UK economy. [1]

The figures throw new light on which sectors truly underpin the UK economy. By comparison, the financial services industry contributed £132 billion to the economy in 2018. [2]

Related research by Young Women’s Trust out today, including a survey of young women, revealed that over half said unpaid work was getting in the way of their ability to take up paid employment. Many surveyed said their male partners and siblings were free to do paid work, while they felt pressured, and in some cases, bullied, into supporting the household.

Young Women’s Trust trialed peer research methods, working closely with young women to make them feel more comfortable sharing their experiences of unpaid work.

The report, Valuing Young Women’s Unpaid Work, carried out by young women researchers aged 18 to 30 and a survey of 85 young women, found that:

  • Young women felt they were benefiting the economy by taking on tasks that would otherwise be paid, and that their work propped up others in paid employment

  • Almost all of the women spoken to said they did want to be in paid employment but their daily unpaid work meant they could not pursue their own career goals and aspirations

  • Almost every young woman said that their male partners and family members were not expected to do the same as them when it came to doing unpaid work. Some women reported that this expectation not only came from their partner, but from their extended family and communities too

  • Many young women found that unpaid work had a negative impact on their mental health and over half of them reported it had an impact on their sleep, relationships and ability to find work themselves

  • This was particularly apparent for young women providing unpaid adult social care to family members, who felt that the expectation of them were born out of generations of women before them doing the same.

Worryingly, some young women reported that they were fearful of negative repercussions from either a partner or family member for not completing unpaid work. These testimonies showed clear examples of economic abuse where young women were actively prevented from accessing paid work or economic autonomy.

Young Women’s Trust and the authors of the report call on the government to:

  • Reassess the employment term “economically inactive” to describe young women’s out of work status and instead recognise the value of the work they do and how they contribute to society

  • Acknowledge the scale of caring responsibilities young women undertake, by increasing the Carers’ Allowance to an amount that young women can live on and a fairer Universal Credit system

  • Invest in and ensure affordable access to childcare for everyone, including for women in education and single parents. Ensure pound for pound equal investment in care as in construction so everyone understands that care is as important as roads and railways both to society and the economy.

Young Women’s Trust have also launched a calculator for young women to add up how much their weekly unpaid work costs the economy on an annual basis.

Chief Executive of Young Women’s Trust, Sophie Walker said:

“Every day young women are told to work for nothing: caring, cooking, cleaning and making sure everyone else is OK. But young women are not OK. They are telling us that it is time to value what they do and acknowledge the staggering amount their unpaid work contributes to the economy.

“Last month the Government called on the ‘economically inactive’ to resolve Britain’s skills gap and productivity crisis. But it chooses not to see that large swathes of them are young women and are already doing it. For nothing. Women across the country are caring and propping up the economy and it’s about time this work was recognised, valued and compensated.

“Equal investment in care as in construction and physical infrastructure would be a place to start.”

Tayah Turay, a young woman who experiences unpaid work and was a peer researcher for this report said: 

“Until my involvement with Young Women’s Trust I didn’t know the value of my own unpaid work. Every day I normalised the tasks that I did for others. I often felt exhausted and overwhelmed but had to keep going because if I didn’t, who would?

“To be able to interview women as part of the research who were like me and share the same experiences of unpaid work was comforting. But it was also a huge responsibility to ensure that young women doing this work were given a voice and are valued for the jobs they selflessly do for others.”