Far from a 'great resignation', trends in education and childcare are moving more people into work
Women and young people are driving Ireland’s post-Covid employment boom, making it a ‘big hire’ rather than a US-style ‘big quit’.
While there are record numbers in the workforce overall – 2.5 million in 2021, an employment rate of over 74pc – new data from the Central Bank shows the biggest shift has been in women over 35 and people under 25 entering and staying in jobs.
It’s a different story to the US, where female labour force participation fell to a 20-year low during the pandemic and the quit rate for all employees hit a record high.
In Ireland, large numbers of women took up jobs in ‘contact intensive’ sectors such as retail and hospitality in 2021, the Central Bank data shows.
But there was also a jump in women being hired by IT, science and financial services firms – and they were hired at a much faster rate than men.
Pandemic-induced flexible working does not seem to be enticing more women into jobs, the Central Bank said.
In fact, a slightly lower share of women with children were in jobs in 2021 (36.1pc) than in the four years before Covid hit (39.8pc).
While remote learning helped under-25s stay in the workforce during the pandemic, longer-term trends in education, childcare and culture are likely to have lured more women into work. And those trends were visible before the pandemic, the Central Bank said.
The strength of the economic recovery has also helped, as has the retirement of older women, who are traditionally less likely to stay in the workforce.
“Our research suggests that there is no strong evidence to date that changes during the pandemic, like a move to hybrid or fully remote working, were the dominant factors supporting the recovery in employment over recent quarters,” said Central Bank research economist Tara McIndoe-Calder.
“Instead, the participation expansion related largely to under-25s and women over the age of 35, who tend to respond strongly to the state of the business cycle.
“Women over 35 had seen increases in their labour force participation for underlying structural reasons that pre-date the pandemic and is expected to continue for some time to come.”
More women over 35 are now working in ‘contact intensive’ service sectors, with the proportion employed growing from 37.1pc in 2015-19 to 51.2pc in 2021.
The proportion of women over 35 employed in the public sector fell from 33.1pc to 21.4pc in the same period.
The share of highly skilled women over 35 in the workforce rose from 51pc to 52.3pc.
Even the share of women under 25 in the workforce has jumped from 48.1pc to 52.1pc.
The fastest-growing sectors of the economy – IT, science and finance – are helping to drive the boost in female employment.
For instance, firms in the ‘professional, scientific and technical’ sector hired women at twice the rate of men during Covid (31pc compared to 15.5pc).
There was a 38.8pc boost in females employed in information and communication firms in 2020 and 2021, compared to a 27.6pc increase in males.
If the trend continues, it would have a positive effect on pensions, as women draw down a third less than men.