Around 3.6 million adults in the UK have never been paid for work, our analysis has shown1.

Of more than 41 million 16- to 64-year-olds in the UK, 75% were employed in July 2017 to June 2018, but there were still nearly 10% who had never done paid work.

Young people aged 16 to 24 years represent most of the population who have never had a paid job – 71% including students. Even excluding those in full-time study, more than half of people who have never carried out paid work are aged under 30 years (52%).

What are their reasons for not working?

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There are more people who have never done paid work than there were in 2008

The number of people who have never had a paid job has grown by 270,000 in the last 10 years, from 3.3 million in 2008. This is mostly driven by a 230,000 increase in people who are studying and have yet to do paid work.

Young people who have never done paid work are more likely to stay in full-time education and less likely to be seeking work than they were 10 years ago.

Since 2008, there has been a 15% increase in the number of 16- to 24-year-olds who are studying and yet to do paid work, which has coincided with a 28% fall in those outside full-time education who are unemployed and have never had a paid job.

There has also been a significant rise in the number of long-term sick who have never carried out paid work. This group, many of who report having a disability which restricts their day-to-day activities, has expanded by 23% (around 75,000) in the last 10 years.

Women are more likely to have never done paid work than men, particularly in older age groups. Among non-students aged 25 to 64 years who have never had a paid job, more than 72% are women.

This is partly because women are more likely to take on the bulk of childcare. Women account for 94% of those who have never worked and are currently looking after the family or home, rising to 96% in cases where there is a dependent child in the family.

Since 2008 there has been a 19% reduction in the number of women with a young child (aged three years or younger) who have never done paid work. At the same time, there has been a small rise in men who have never been paid for work and are looking after the family or home, driven by households with no dependent children.

In recent decades, successive governments have introduced policies to try to make it easier for parents to enter and stay in the workplace. This has included changes to parental leave, increased rights to request flexible working and additional support for childcare.


  1. Individuals are identified as having never worked if during interview they responded to say that they had never in their life had paid work, apart from casual or holiday work. Respondents are instructed to include self-employment or work on a government scheme as paid work. Reasons for not doing paid work are based on respondents’ current circumstances and reason for not working. Consequently, respondents may have had other reasons for not working at different points in their adult life.
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