Female participation rates rise but more needed

May 03, 2019

Ibec, the group that represents Irish business, has welcomed Eurostat statistics on female labour market participation in 2018. In the main participating age category, 25-54 years, female participation in Ireland rose to record levels last year with 78,000 more females at work than in 2014.

Overall, there was in excess of 804,700 females in the main age category of the workforce, resulting in a participation rate of 77.2%, up from 72.5% in the decade since 2009. However, despite the increase last year, the female participation rate in the main age category in Ireland continues to remain below that of the EU average of 80.1%.

Ibec Senior Executive Dr Kara McGann stated: “Female labour force participation has been a key driver of economic growth historically with almost a quarter of Ireland’s GDP growth in the 1990s attributed to a rise in female economic participation.

"Given the shortages of skills in certain sectors the latest data from Eurostat is positive, however we can’t afford to be complacent as we still lag our EU counterparts as the fifth lowest country for the proportion of women at work.

It is essential that we continue to focus on reducing the structural and policy issues that work against women joining or remaining in the labour market. This includes supporting career returner programmes, flexible working arrangements and continuing to look at the cost of childcare which is among the highest of the 36 OECD countries.

Ibec acknowledges that significant work has been done by the Government to support families in meeting the cost of quality childcare, including the rollout of the National Childcare Scheme in October. However, there are still major challenges for many parents particularly where multiple children are involved which can act as a disincentive to employment for many women.

Ibec has made a series of recommendations to address the cost of childcare including:

  • Means testing child benefit payments for higher income households and redirecting the savings into childcare services
  • Increasing the flexibility in child:adult ratios where more highly qualified staff can respond to higher numbers of children, enabling wages to be increased
  • Extending the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme to include children aged 1 to 3 years and increasing the duration to 4 hours to facilitate parents staying closer to the labour market
  • Exploring the feasibility and possible benefits of a tax saver childcare voucher model to encourage the retention of parents in the labour market.