Last reviewed 29 November 2021

The pandemic has not led to mass unemployment as many feared but has instead driven wider shifts that have increased employment among younger women, but pushed many men and older workers out of the labour market altogether.

These are among the key findings of a new report by independent think tank the Resolution Foundation, Begin again? — the eighth report for The Economy 2030 Inquiry which assesses the structural impact of the pandemic on the labour market.

Available here, the 68-page report argues that unprecedented policy support has meant that the UK is not facing the mass unemployment that many feared at the start of the pandemic.

However, it goes on, overall falls in participation are in stark contrast to the rises seen in past recessions and reflect participation increases for some groups, but bigger falls for others.

The report finds that workforce participation has fallen by 1.2 percentage points among 55 to 64 year-olds since mid-2019 — a bigger fall than in any recession over the past 40 years.

Hannah Slaughter, Economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The pandemic has seen older workers withdraw from the labour market — and while anxieties about high levels of Covid-19 may understandably put some off from working today, the danger is they find themselves in early retirement tomorrow”.

Younger men have also left the workforce during the crisis. Participation among men aged 25 to 34 has fallen by 1.6 percentage points over the past two years.

The Foundation highlights that the pandemic has seen an increase in labour force participation among women, whose participation rate has increased by 0.4 percentage points.

This builds on the pre-crisis trend and means that women now make up 48% of the workforce, compared to 44% in 1992. There has also been a shift of about half a million women from working part time to full time since the pandemic began.

This rise in participation is particularly striking among mothers with young children, the report notes, with participation rates increasing by 5.4 percentage points among mothers with 0–3-year-olds.

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

Whilst the improvement in employment for young women is fantastic, employers must recognise the widespread reduction in older generation employees and implement measures to alleviate this.

A truly diverse and inclusive workforce can provide significant benefits; having older staff members, with a vast range of life experience and employment advice, allows those in the early stages of their careers to be supported and mentored.

Employee satisfaction and productivity can be dwindled without adequate training, therefore it is essential to have individuals in the workplace who are on hand to guide others through key situations and duties.