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Underemployment Carries Hidden Costs for Women

Underemployment Carries Hidden Costs for Women

by Julie Ray and Mary Claire Evans

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A new Gallup analysis shows underemployment exacts an emotional toll from both women and men globally, but it disproportionately affects women, who are more likely not to be working at their desired capacity.

A Gallup investigation of its surveys in 154 countries from 2017 to 2022 revealed:

  • More women than men were not working at their preferred capacity. A median of 27% of women versus 20% of men in the workforce* were underemployed, which was defined in the analysis as those who were unemployed and those who worked part-time jobs for an employer but desired full-time work.
  • Fewer women than men were also working at their desired capacity. A median of 45% of women in the workforce were employed at their desired capacity, which was defined as working full time for an employer or working part time but not wanting full-time work, compared with 51% of men who were working at desired capacity.
  • Although women were more likely than men to be thriving, the wellbeing of both suffered when they were not working at their desired capacity. On average, one in four (25%) women who were underemployed rated their current and future lives well enough to be considered thriving, compared with 31% of women employed at capacity. The gap was slightly narrower among underemployed men and those employed at desired capacity.

Gallup categorizes people as thriving, struggling or suffering according to how they rate their present and future lives on a ladder scale, with steps numbered from zero to 10, based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. The designation of "thriving" encompasses not only daily experiences and purpose but also an overall life evaluation that reflects a well-lived life.

Thriving Deficits Present in a Majority of Countries

In 90 of the 154 countries and territories, underemployed women were less likely than women employed at desired capacity to be “thriving.” In 45 countries, the “thriving deficit” spanned 10 percentage points or more.


The countries with the largest thriving deficits between underemployed women and those employed at their desired capacity were largely high-income and upper-middle-income economies.

Australia showed a 21-point difference, with 64% of women employed at capacity thriving versus 43% of the underemployed. Similar trends were seen in Canada, the Netherlands and Costa Rica, all with 20-point differences.


Emotional Strain Greater Among Underemployed

In addition to having a less positive outlook on their present and future lives, underemployed women and men were also more likely than those employed at desired capacity to report experiencing negative emotions such as worry, stress, sadness and anger.

While the gaps between women and men were of similar size, regardless of their employment status, women were more likely than their male counterparts to express negative emotions.


Underemployment and negative emotions may go hand in hand, but underemployment did little to dampen people’s experience of positive feelings, such as enjoyment, smiling or laughing a lot, or learning something interesting.

Women in the workforce who were underemployed or employed at capacity earned similar scores on the composite Positive Experience Index (71 vs. 70). Underemployed women’s score on the composite Negative Experience Index (39) was higher than the score for women employed at desired capacity (33). This relationship was also seen for underemployed men and those employed at desired capacity.



These findings reinforce what Gallup previously observed in the U.S., but on a global scale and among women and men. The data illustrate often-overlooked challenges that underemployed people face globally, highlighting the urgent need for a more nuanced understanding of labor-market dynamics -- particularly among women in the workforce.

Underemployment is a drag on the wellbeing of the world’s workforce. Whether women are unemployed or stuck in part-time roles while hoping for full-time employment, the data underscore how their participation in the workforce is not enough. More women need to work at their desired capacity to reap the associated wellbeing benefits.

*Those employed for themselves were not included in this group.

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For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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