By Daniel Hunter

The proportion of young women doing low-paid, low-skill jobs has trebled over the last 20 years, according to new TUC-commissioned research.

The study, carried out for the TUC by The Work Foundation, shows that between 1993 and 2011 the share of female 16-24 year-olds in employment doing low-paid work, such as office and hotel cleaning, has increased from seven per cent to 21 per cent. Over the same period the proportion of young men working in low-paid jobs also rose from around one in seven (14 per cent) to one in four (25 per cent).

The report - The Gender Jobs Split - also reveals how gender still plays a huge part in determining young people's careers.

Just one in a hundred young women worked in skilled trades in 2011, compared to one in five young men. And four times more young women (21 per cent) worked in personal service occupations like hairdressing, leisure and the travel industry in 2011 than young men (5 per cent).

The report also shows how despite being better qualified than their male peers, young women are still following employment routes that offer lower wage returns.

The Gender Jobs Split finds that:

- More young people have become trapped in low-paid, low-skill jobs: The number of young people trapped in low-paid work has increased markedly over the past 20 years. The report blames the huge rise in low-skilled work on the collapse of middle-income jobs, such as administrative and plant and manufacturing jobs in recent decades.

- Gender segregation is rife at the lower end of the youth jobs market: In 1993 only three per cent of young women worked in skilled trades. However, by 2011 this had fallen to just one per cent, compared to 20 per cent of young men. The proportion of young men doing personal service jobs had almost halved.

- There is a big gender split in apprenticeships: Young women take a much narrower range of apprenticeships than young men. They continue to dominate in traditional areas such as customer service, retail, health and social care. The report says this has particular implications for young women as female-dominated sectors typically offer fewer progression opportunities and lower pay.

- Young women are getting a lower wage return on their qualifications: Despite being better qualified than young men, young women are seeing a lower wage premium for vocational qualifications. For women the wage premia for level 2 qualifications are eight per cent, compared to 12-14 per cent for men. The report says the most likely reason for this is the types of vocational qualifications young women take, with women particularly likely to enter relatively low-paid areas like social care.

- Young women are more likely to be economically inactive because of caring responsibilities: There is no sign of young men taking on greater caring responsibilities. In 2011, 14 per cent of young women were economically inactive as a result of looking after family and their home, compared to just one per cent of young men.

Commenting on the report TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The youth labour market has become much a harsher place for young people over the past 20 years, especially for young women.

"While there has been a welcome rise in the number of females gaining qualifications, many still find themselves trapped in low-skill, low-wage jobs.

"This is because there are fewer good jobs out there and because young women are still being channelled down 'traditional' routes.

"Unless we create better training and employment opportunities for young people, as well as challenging gender roles from the outset, the situation will not improve. We need to invest in new industries to create decent jobs and provide better early years careers support."

Katy Jones from The Work Foundation said: "The gender gap starts early in working lives and is particularly striking in the lower half of the labour market. Young women tend to start work and remain in sectors with lower pay and fewer prospects.

"Unemployment for both young men and women remains at crisis levels. While it is higher for young men, young women are more likely to quit an active job search and move into inactivity from unemployment.

"Intermediaries have an important role to play in cutting across the gender divide by encouraging young people to consider a wider range of 'non-traditional' occupations and apprenticeships."

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