Gender gaps in the workforce

There are multiple gender gaps relating to economic activity in the Cayman Islands, including who works and where they are employed. The 2010 Census of Population and Housing found that the unemployment rate was higher among males (6.7 per cent) than females (5.8 per cent). Females were more likely to not be participating in the labour force at all – 20.6 per cent compared with 13.7 per cent of males.

There were also significant gender gaps within the employed population. For example, the vast majority of workers employed by private households (92.1 per cent) or in clerical occupations (75.1 per cent) were female and they also dominated in education (74.8 per cent) and human health and social work (74.8 per cent). Craft and trade workers (96 per cent), skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery workers (95.9 per cent) and those employed in construction (93.4 per cent) and utilities (78.7 per cent) were almost exclusively male.

How did we get here?

The International Labour Organisation concludes that gender gaps in the labour market are the result of complex economic, demographic and behavioural factors – including various forms of discrimination. While it is often easy to see and understand direct or indirect discrimination against individuals, structural discrimination is more elusive and a much bigger contributor to these gaps.

Structural discrimination occurs when society’s major ‘structures’ – such as the family, labour market or education system – consistently disadvantage males or females through norms, policies and behaviour. This prevents equality of opportunity and leads to unjust outcomes. Characteristics and roles that people associate with being male or female are learned from childhood through socialisation, so it is often an invisible factor that is not considered. We expect men and women and boys and girls to want different things and to have different capabilities. These stereotypes, not our innate abilities, affect us in many ways and often limit our opportunities in life.

Labour force participation

The gap in labour force participation is one outcome of the unequal responsibilities and opportunities that arise from stereotyped gender roles. Within households, paid and unpaid work is divided to meet the needs for income, housework and care giving. Beliefs about gender roles affect how this work is divided and how much each individual’s contribution is valued. Often, females are outside the labour force because they are seen as having sole or primary responsibility for unpaid housework and caregiving. In the 2011 Labour Force Survey, 22.2 per cent of females and 4.6 per cent of males reported home or family duties as the main reason they did not seek paid work.

Segregation of labour

Stereotypes about housework and care giving responsibilities also channel females seeking paid work into similar careers, such as domestic work, education and human services. Likewise, when boys engage in activities and chores outside the home and are encouraged to be tough and physically strong, they are led to construction, agriculture, automotive repair and similar industries.

Once the gender segregation of labour is established it encourages males and females to choose certain occupations. Employers often further reinforce the segregation by not adapting work environments to suit men and women or by favouring one sex over the other.

This is also a major factor in the gender income gap, as “masculine” jobs pay more than “feminine” jobs for the same level of education and skill required. The ILO has demonstrated this consistent wage bias in a study across 14 different countries.


Gender gaps can also affect who is most impacted by economic events. Generally, unemployment is higher among females. However, the recent slump has impacted the sexes differently and caused male unemployment to significantly outpace female unemployment. Different educational achievements – also a product of gender stereotypes – and the concentration of males in hard-hit industries led to the current gender gap in unemployment.

The 2011 Labour Force Survey showed that unemployment was lowest among those with a college degree, and females are more likely than males to hold an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree or higher. Almost 80 per cent of unemployed males had no post-secondary education. Additionally, 51.7 per cent were most recently employed in construction, which declined by 63.5 per cent between 2008 and 2011. In that same time period, male unemployment almost doubled, increasing from 3.8 per cent to 6.7 per cent, while female employment rose from 4.1 per cent to 5.8 per cent.

We should all encourage individuals to pursue their interests and aspirations because males and females are equally valuable and capable of succeeding with the right support. Barriers to gender equality don’t just hold back males and females. They also hold back economic growth and human development. But these gender norms are created by society and we can change them.

The full 2010 Census of Population and Housing, statistical compendiums and other publications from the Economics and Statistics Office are available online at For a more detailed gender analysis of the 2010 Census, including specific statistics referenced in this article, please visit our website at The “Resources” section also has more information on specific gender issues and how you can take action and promote gender equality.