What do women want? Trade unions

Cantillon: Union membership ‘increasingly female phenomenon’, UCD study finds

Trade union membership is “increasingly becoming a female phenomenon” in Ireland, according to a major new study by researchers at the UCD Smurfit School of Business, based on a survey of more than 2,000 people of working age in paid employment across the State.

In fact, Prof John Geary and Dr Maria Belizón found that Irish unions now have more women members than men, with the growth in female participation in the labour force in recent decades being matched by a growing number of women joining trade unions.

While trade union membership has, in general, been on the slide over the past 18 years, women and young people are the cohorts that are most enthusiastic about coughing up their monthly dues. More than two-thirds of non-union members aged 16-24 would vote to establish a union in their workplace compared with 40 per cent of non-union workers generally.

“Some 15 years ago”, the authors of the UCD Working in Ireland report note, “there was little difference” in the gender composition of trade unions membership. These days, however, 54 per cent of Irish union members are women.


“When union members are profiled on the basis of individual-level characteristics”, the authors said, the gender differences in union membership density were “notable”. A quarter of all male employees surveyed said they were paid-up union members compared with close to a third of female workers.

Interestingly, the report also found that union members, male and female, were the only cohort of workers that felt they weren’t under more stress and pressure to increase their output while working from home in the first year of the pandemic. T

The report concluded that trade unions can play “an important role in moderating the more harmful effects of homeworking” but that the “challenges of doing so with a dispersed workforce are significant”.