NYR 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%) than females (5.8%). Females were more likely to not be participating in the labour force at all - 20.6% compared with 13.7% 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%) or in clerical occupations (75.1%) were female and they also dominated in education (74.8%) and human health and social work (74.8%). Craft and trade workers (96%), skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery workers (95.9%) and those employed in construction (93.4%) and utilities (78.7%) were almost exclusively male.

How did we get here?

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) 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 caregiving. 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% of females and 4.6% of males reported home or family duties as the main reason they did not seek paid work.

When female employees are seen as having a weaker connection to the workforce - because they are more likely to take career breaks or have family responsibilities - companies may also hire men over women, pay them more money, and/or provide greater training opportunities because males are seen as better “investments”. The 2010 Census showed that there were more employed males than employed females and that males earned a higher income at every educational level. In the 2011 Labour Force Survey, employed males were also 10% more likely to have received training than employed females.

If an employer makes these decisions based on stereotypes about how a worker is expected to behave instead of on his or her individual qualifications, achievements and potential then that employer is discriminating.

Segregation of labour

Stereotypes about housework and caregiving 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 fourteen 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% of unemployed males had no post-secondary education. Additionally, 51.7% were most recently employed in construction, which declined by 63.5% between 2008 and 2011. In that same time period, male unemployment almost doubled, increasing from 3.8% to 6.7%, while female employment rose from 4.1% to 5.8%.

Why do these statistics matter?

International research has proven that reducing gender gaps significantly improves economic growth, per capita income and standards of living. When boys and girls and men and women are able to pursue their interests and desires, the economy makes use of all potential labour and skills. The best people are educated, trained and available for jobs and everyone contributes to and benefits from growth. The labour market is also better able to respond to shocks, for example, the decline of a traditionally male-dominated industry like construction or rise of a traditionally female-dominated industry like healthcare.

Also, when females are less likely to work outside the home and those who do congregate in low-paying occupations that may lack worker protections, they are disadvantaged and often vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Often, these gaps also contribute to poverty, poor living conditions, fewer opportunities and other negative consequences for their children as well.

When an individual is unemployed or outside of the labour force altogether, he or she is economically dependent on other people to provide for his or her basic needs. There are significant differences in how males and females who are not earning their own income are financially supported. The 2010 Census revealed that among those who were not working, females were more likely than males to rely on a spouse or partner or social services for financial support. Males were more likely to rely on their parents, savings or investment or other earned benefits from a pension or as a Veteran or Seaman.

Promoting gender equality in the workforce

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. Breaking stereotypes, eliminating prejudices and ensuring equality of opportunity will result in a more diverse, skilled, innovative and productive workforce, a more robust economy, and reduced vulnerability and social ills.

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. Promote gender equality. Don’t stereotype.

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