L-earning: rethinking young women's working lives

Most young people do paid work before they finish school and college, and for university students, paid work is increasingly necessary due to rising student fees and cost of living.

Female students are especially likely to undertake paid work alongside their studies; from babysitting to retail and hospitality work, to new forms of digital platform work.

Previous studies suggest that gender inequalities exist even in these early forms of work. Despite this we know little about the detail of young people's first experiences of work, nor how these may engender longer-term patterns and establish differences between men's and women's working lives that we know grow as workers get older.  

Indeed, although young women now outperform men in education, and outnumber them in higher education, by the time they hit their 30s, working women experience a growing gender pay gap. Moreover, many of the gains made in women's employment over the last 50 years have been stalled and even reversed by recent economic disruption, including austerity, the pandemic and cost of living crisis.

To address these challenges, it is timely and urgent to look closely at young women's working lives, and provide detailed analysis of how they enter, move around or get stuck in specific types of work.

This study will investigate how gendered inequalities emerge in young women's earliest experiences of work and how these get solidified or are remade as their working lives develop.

It will generate data through analysis of existing national data sets, focus groups and interviews with 180 young women, and interviews and roundtables with national stakeholder representatives.  

The research will impact academic disciplines across the Social Sciences and produce benefits for policymakers, industry, education and third sector organisations working to challenge inequalities and promote positive change in the lives of young women.  

The study will be steered by a young women's advisory group, supported by the Young Women’s Trust, ensuring they have a central role in shaping the research. 

Follow updates on the project on Twitter: @ywworking

Project website