self employment Statistics

The option of going self employed in the UK appears to have gradually become more and more popular. 

In this breakdown, we’ll explore the world of the self employed. Using numbers and statistics collected by our specialists, we’ll compare those who work for themselves with those who are employed, and reveal whether there are differences related to gender, age or race.

Self-employment in the UK over time

"As of the July to September period in 2019, 4.95 million people were registered as self-employed"

There has been a significant increase in the number of self employed individuals in the UK over the last 25 years.

As of the July to September period in 2019, 4.95 million people were registered as self-employed

Data collected between the same quarter in 1999 reveals that only 890,000 people were self employed. This shows a huge increase over the years of approximately 4,060,000.

The lowest levels of self employment in the UK occurred between 2001 and 2002, with a sudden boom between 2003 and 2004. From thereon, the numbers climbed steadily – with a brief drop in 2013 and another boom in 2014.

We are currently experiencing the highest self employed numbers for 20 years.

Self-employment by region

"Across the UK overall, around 15.1% of individuals work in self employed jobs."

According to our research, as of the year running from July 2018 – June 2019, the London saw the highest self employment rate.

18.5% of residents there worked for themselves, with the rest of the major UK regions following thus:

 

 

South West: 17.2%
South East: 16.1%
East: 16%
Northern Ireland: 15.2%
Wales: 14.2%
West Midlands: 13.8%
North West: 13.4%
Yorkshire and Humber: 13.3%
East Midlands: 12.9%
North East: 12.8%
Scotland: 12.4%

“Across the UK overall, around 15.1% of individuals work in self employed jobs.”

Overall, the percentage of self employed UK residents has risen from 12.8 in 2004-05 to 15.1 in 2018-19.

Northern Ireland originally saw the largest number of self employed residents, with London surging past it in 2007-08.

The area that has experienced the greatest amount of change in terms of its number of self employed residents is the North East. The region has experienced a 4.1% growth in self employment since 2004-05. 

It overtook Scotland in 2018, making the northernmost UK region the area with the lowest number of self employed people.

Self-employment by industry

Of the 4.95 million self employed individuals in the UK, around 9200,000 work in construction. This sector sees the highest amount of self employed workers. Following this are:

Professional, scientific and technical activities with 6430,000
“Other services” with 5880,000
Wholesale, retail and repair of motor vehicles with 3960,000
Administrative and support services with 3610,000
Human health and social work activities with 3490,00

Other sectors populated with large numbers of self employed workers included:

Transport and storage (3240,000)
Education (2550,000)
Manufacturing (2460,000)
Information and communication (2400,000)
Agriculture, forestry, mining, fishing, energy and water (2180,000)
Accommodation and food services (1730,000)
Real estate activities (860,000)
Financial and insurance activities (860,000)
Public admin and defence and social security (570,000)

Self-employment by ethnicity

Those of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin represent by far the largest self employed numbers. Individuals of this ethnicity make up 24.1% of self employed individuals in the UK. 

Those of Chinese and other Asian backgrounds are the next most likely to be self employed (16.1%), then those of white heritage (15.2%). Indian self employed workers make up 12.8%, with 12.3% of those from a black background likely to be self employed.

As is reflected by the overall rise in the number of self employed individuals in the UK, the number of those working for themselves in each ethnic group has risen considerably since 2011.

Throughout that time, Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers have remained the most likely to be self employed by a considerable margin.

Black UK residents have experienced the most notable change, with the number of self employed people from this background rising by 51.9%.

Self-employment by age and gender

"Those aged 65+ have just under half a million self employed individuals amongst their number."

The largest percentage of self employed people in the UK are between 45 and 54 years of age, with the next age group down – 35-44 – representing the second largest. Both feature in excess of 1 million people.

Those aged 55-64 see just under 1 million of their number in self employed work.

Then come those aged 25-34, with just over three quarters of a million

Those aged 65+ have just under half a million self employed individuals amongst their number.

Of course, because most 16-24 year olds are still in education or working part time, they are the least likely to be self employed. Their numbers reflect this, with just under 200,000 working for themselves.

So how many self employed people in the UK hail from which gender?

 

According to the UK Labour Force Survey, 33% of self employed people are female (equating to around 1.63 million) and 67% are male (3.32 million).

While in 2001, a slightly higher number of self employed people had members of staff working for them rather than working alone. This number dropped significantly between 2001 and 2017.

By contrast, between 2001 and 2002, the number of those working for themselves without the support of a team (not counting partners) surpassed that of self employed individuals with employees and continued to grow.

Average income for self-employed workers (weekly income)

The average income for women who are self employed on a full time basis comes in at around £243 per week. Self employed men tend to earn around £363 per week – just over 49% more.

Part time self employed female workers earn an average of £120 per week, compared to £166 per week for part time self employed male workers (a difference of over 38%).

Women who are self employed and work full time earn just over double the amount they would if they worked part time.

Men who are self employed and work full time earn almost 119% more than they would if they worked part time.

The average full time self employed female worker would earn just over 76% more if she was in employed work.

The average full time self employed male worker would earn nearly 47% more if he was employed.

Self-employment expectations and realities

"Around 18% of self employed young women have GCSEs or no qualifications"

Around a fifth of young people aged 16 to 21 expect to become self employed during their future career, while around 9% of those aged 22-30 actually become self employed after leaving education.

Those who plan to work for themselves tend to make this decision based on a wish to:

Have an interesting job (75.1%)
Achieve job security (58.6%)
Be able to spend time with family (44.5%)
Take home a high income (30.8%)
Help others (28%)
Contribute to society (21.9%)
Afford a good amount of leisure time (14.4%)

Those who did not expect to work for themselves gave their priorities in a similar order, as follows:

An interesting job (70.8%) Job security (60.8%) Family time (38.7%) Being able to help others (25.8%) Achieving a high income (23%) Contributing to society (20%) Having leisure time (11.2%)

Self employed workers tend to earn less than those in employment on average, with employed women earning over 76% more than self employed women and employed men earning over 47% more than self employed men.

Despite this disparity in pay between employed and self employed people, the self employed – particularly those between 22 and 30 years of age – are three times more likely to work more than 45 hours per week than those who are employed. 

The typical full time contract is between 35 and 40 hours per week, with just under 10% of employed individuals working more than 45 hours.

The self employed are also more likely to be affected by economic crises. The median gross annual earnings for 22-30 year old self employed people dropped from over £20,000 in 2006-07 to under £15,000 in 2010-11 during the “credit crunch”. The amount dropped to around £12,000 in 2012-13 and had still failed to meet its 2006-07 level by 2017.

By contrast, the wages of employed individuals averaged around £25,000 in 2006-07, and dropped very gradually to around £18,000 during the financial crisis. From there, they climbed steadily, surpassing £20,000 in 2015-16.

While 12% of men aged 22-30 work for themselves, just 6% of women of the same age do so. This is likely because a high number of sectors that are male-dominated, such as construction, are also more likely to attract self-employed workers.

In fact, there are only slightly more self employed men aged 22-30 working in construction than there are women of this age group working for themselves combined.

Despite earning less, the level of education for young women in self employment is considerably higher than that of young men.

While over 31% of self employed men aged 22-30 have completed their A Levels or equivalent, around 28% only have GCSEs or do not have any qualifications whatsoever.

Around 18% of self employed young women have GCSEs or no qualifications, 25% have the equivalent of A Levels, but nearly 52% have a degree or a higher education qualification compared to 32% of males.

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