The percentage of the population that are economically active, and the top industries they work for 

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  • More than half of people England and Wales are in work or actively looking for work (61%), while 39% are economically inactive. 
  • New research has analysed data from the ONS 2021 Census to reveal how much of the population is economically active, and which industries they are in. 
  • The retail trade ranks top with 10.2% of the workforce working in this industry. 

A new study has revealed that just over half of the population are economically active, while 39% are inactive. 

The study, conducted by income protection experts Eleos, analysed data from the Office for National Statistics 2021 Census to reveal how much of the population is in work, and which are the most common industries to work in. 

More than 28.2 million people are economically active (excluding full students), with 95.12% of people in employment and 4.87% looking for work. For those that are full-time students and economically active, they make up 2.28% of the population, with 810,345 of these people in a job. 

On the other hand, 19,117,521 (39%) are economically inactive, with the most popular reason being retirement. Those who are retired make up 54.99% of those who are economically inactive.  

In contrast, only 14.33% of students aren’t looking for work, while those looking after their family and home make up 12.12%, followed closely by those long-term sick or disabled with just 10.59%.  

Ranking as the industry with largest proportion of the population’s workforce is ‘Retail trade, except for motor vehicles and motorcycles.’ A whopping 2.8 million people are working in retail, making this 10.2% of the working population. 

Following closely in second is the education sector with 2,722,418 people within it. In third is human health activities, with 2,476,180.  

The ten most popular industries in England and Wales (including full-time students) 

            Rank           Industry           Number of people working in this industry           Percentage of workforce in industry 
          1.         Retail trade, except for motor vehicles and motorcycles         2,838,718         10.2% 
          2.          Education         2,722,418         9.8% 
          3.         Human Health Activities         2,476,180         8.9% 
          4.         Construction of buildings; Civil engineering         2,397,460         8.6% 
          5.         Public Administration and   Defence         1,636,980         5.9% 
          6.         Social Work Activities without  Accommodation         1,175,424         4.2% 
          7.         Food and Beverage Services         1,146,261         4.1% 
          8.         Computer programming,   consultancy,  and related activities         788,517         2.8% 
          9.         Wholesale trade,   except of motor vehicles   and motorcycles         767,154         2.7% 
          10.         Services to buildings and landscape         705,935         2.5% 

The study also found that for those who work, over 9.5 million (9,703,900) work full-time, while just over 4 million people work part-time (4,131,967). 

As well as looking at what industries people work in, the analysis also looked at the mode of transport people take to work.  

45% (12,480,002) of workers say that they use their car or van to get to work, 31% say that they work mainly at home, while 4% say that they catch a bus, minibus, or coach to get to work. With just 0.4% only 127,804 are opting to use motorbikes, scooters, or mopeds for their main mode of transport. 

Speaking on the findings, Kiruba Shankar Eswaran, CEO of Eleos said: “The number of economically active people is a key metric in assessing the overall economic health of a country. High levels of economic activity often correlate with a vibrant and growing economy, while low levels may indicate economic challenges. 

“Person-facing roles, such as customer service, healthcare, education, and hospitality, are integral to the functioning of society. They contribute directly to the well-being and quality of life for individuals. Monitoring these roles helps identify shifts in societal needs and preferences. It also helps policymakers, businesses, and researchers identify which industries are thriving, where there may be skill shortages, and which sectors are experiencing growth or decline.” 

Employment Status: 

            Economically Active (excl. full-time students)           Number of people 
          In employment         26,861,388 
          Looking for work         1,376,363 
          Economically Active   and a full-time student          
          In employment         810,345 
          Looking for work         298,822 
          Economically Inactive          
          Retired         10,513,713 
          Student         2,740,634 
          Looking after home or family         2,317,340 
          Long-term sick or disabled         2,025,621 
          Other         1,520,213 

Mode of Transport 

            Mode of Transport           Number of people 
          Work mainly at or from home         8,671,722 
          Underground, metro, light rail, tram         500,733 
          Train         523,960 
          Bus, mini bus or coach         1,155,232 
          Taxi         198,648 
          Motorcycle, scooter or moped         127,804 
          Driving a car or van         12,480,002 
          Passenger in a car or van         1,078,755 
          Bicycle         566,012 
          On foot         2,101,058 
          Other         267,808 

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Sources: 2021 Census of England and Wales 

Methodology: By looking at the 2021 Census of England and Wales, we were able to identify how much of the population is currently in work, or is looking for work, and how many are inactive. We could also see what industries are most popular for workers, and the mode of transport most of them wish to take. 

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