Women bearing the brunt of economic problems in the UK, new research finds

Press release

  • Report by Royal Society of Arts think-tank finds women feel less economically secure than men
  • 43% of working women would struggle to pay an unexpected bill of £100, compared to 30% of working men, and 38% feel that their job does not provide them with enough income for a decent standard of living, compared to just 24% of their male counterparts
  • Royal Society of Arts calls on government and employers to get tough on ‘discrimination by algorithm’

Female workers are significantly more likely to feel worsening living standards and aren’t saving enough for retirement and fear the impact of Brexit, according to survey from The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce of over 2000 individuals undertaken with Populus.

The report, ‘From Precarity to Empowerment: Women and the future of work’ was published as part of a submission for the Women’s Budget Group’s Commission for a Gender-Equal Economy, a ground-breaking investigation into the role of women in our economy and society, led by a group which includes economist Ann Pettifor.

The results of the survey show stark differences in the levels of economic security reported by men and women. Female workers are more likely to feel that they don’t have enough savings to maintain a decent standard of living in retirement (54% versus 37% for men) and are more likely to feel that they don’t have scope to progress in their careers (42%, versus 34%).

Women in work are more likely to report that they would struggle to pay an unexpected bill of just £100, (43%, versus 30% of men).

The report also highlights the dangers of new technologies exacerbating existing gender divides in the workplace. Recent cases of women suffering from in-built bias in artificial intelligence systems require a robust response. Left unchecked, algorithmic prejudice could become one of the new giants of modern poverty.

Campaign groups, the government and civil society should further pursue a ‘big push’ for women to join the STEM workforce. The report also calls for deliberation – involving informed discussion about issues around technology, gender and work – to provide for an inclusive way of tackling these issues.

This comes just after the release of the Royal Society of Arts’ report ‘Economic Insecurity: The case for a 21st century safety net’, which looks more broadly at economic insecurity in the UK. This found that 59% cannot afford an unexpected bill of £500.

To request a copy of the report, please contact [email protected].

Asheem Singh, Director of Economy, Royal Society of Arts, said:
“Automation, gig work and artificial intelligence offer huge opportunities to enrich the human experience - but also real dangers. Women in particular are at risk. Whether it is algorithms that filter out women from certain job adverts or a gig economy that is increasingly gendered, we need to be alive to the danger and take action. We need more women in science and coding jobs and more conversations about gender and tech in workplaces and institutions. We must avoid at all costs a world in which prejudice by algorithm is an accepted part of everyday life.”


Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the UK Women’s Budget Group, said:
“This survey highlights the stark truth that for too many women, the economy isn’t working. Women have lower incomes than men, are less likely to progress in their careers and are more likely to be living in poverty at all stages of their lives. Working class, BAME and disabled women are particularly likely to face the economic insecurity revealed in this survey. But it doesn’t have to be like this – we can organise the economy differently. This report makes an important contribution to our Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy, which is working to proactively develop alternative economic policies to promote gender equality across the UK.”


Survey methodology: 

Populus conducted an online sample of 2,048 GB adults 18+ (1,053 who work). Fieldwork was conducted between 8th May and 9th May 2019. Data is weighted to be representative of the population of Great Britain. Targets for quotas and weights are taken from the National Readership Survey, a random probability F2F survey conducted annually with 34,000 adults. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For further information see http://www.britishpollingcouncil.org/ 



Will Grimond, RSA Media and Communications Officer, [email protected], 07972470135

Ash Singleton, RSA Head of Media and Communications: [email protected]   


For information about the Women’s Budget Group and the Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy, contact:


Thaira Mhearban, Communications Officer, Women’s Budget Group, [email protected], 07838 222067



The RSA [the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce] is an independent charity whose mission is to enrich society through ideas and action.     

Our work covers a number of areas including the rise of the 'gig economy', robotics & automation; education & creative learning; and reforming public services to put communities in control.    



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