Number of women in paid work hits all time high – Central Bank

Growth, not Covid, behind the trend, experts say

Sarah Collins

Record high female employment was not ushered in by Covid work-from-home rules, the Central Bank has found.

Instead, the strong economic recovery and longer-term trends have led to more women - and young people - entering and staying in the workforce, a Central Bank study said.

Women over 35 and young people under 25 drove employment in the Irish economy to an all-time high of 2.5 million people at the end of last year.

Female employment reached a record high of around 60pc of the workforce in 2021.

“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.”

The proportion of working age people in jobs here has risen to a high of 74pc, just above the EU average, although still below countries like the Netherlands and Estonia.

Ms McIndoe-Calder said bringing Ireland in line with Europe’s best performing countries “may not happen automatically” and is "likely require some further action”.

The biggest shift during the pandemic came from females over 35 who moved from having no job into contact-intensive service sectors.

These jobs accounted for almost 56.7pc of all newly employed people in 2021, with the proportion of women over 35 in such jobs jumping from 37.1 to 51.2 during Covid.

The share of highly skilled women and people under 25 entering the workforce also grew in 2020 and 2021.

However, fewer parents with young children moved into jobs during the pandemic.

“This suggests a mixed picture for pandemic-induced work flexibility in supporting the labour force expansion in 2021,” the Central Bank said.

“Remote education may have supported labour force participation, whilst presence of young children may have represented additional caring responsibilities for parents hindering labour force participation.”

The share of women over 35 in part-time employment rose from 64pc before the pandemic to 66pc in 2021, but the share of all groups temporary employment fell.

Domestic labour, rather than importing workers from abroad, has led to the jobs recovery in Ireland, the study found.

However, the Central Bank report said the record numbers of people in work could dampen wages, although that is likely to fade as the pool of available workers shrinks.

The job vacancy rate in Ireland hit 1.6pc at the end of March, a point ahead of the same period in 2021 but still well below the EU average of around 3pc.