Union membership among young people

Published: 31st Mar 2017

In brief


Trade union sign up for those aged between 25 and 34 is 17% and for those aged 16 to 25 it’s 5%.


This is not quite correct. 13% of the UK population aged 25 to 34 were union members and employees in 2015 and 4% of those aged 16 to 24. Ms Andrews meant to refer to the proportion of trade union members in these age groups. 5% of trade union members were 16 to 24 in 2015 and 18% were aged 25 to 34.

“Looking at the number of people signing up to unions between the ages of 16 and up to 35, it’s negligible, it's tiny. Only 17%: 25 to 34, 5%: 16 to 25.”

Kate Andrews, 31 March 2017

These figures aren’t quite correct. Around 4% of all people in this age group in the UK were employees and members of a union in 2015. That’s around 316,000 people. Meanwhile 13% of 25-34 year olds were employee members of a union that year, or 1.2 million people.

6.5 million people were employees and members of a trade union that year.

Ms Andrews meant to refer to the proportion of all union members who were in these age groups, according to the Institute for Economic Affairs, which Ms Andrews is news editor for.

5% of employee union members in the UK were between the age of 16 and 24 in 2015 and 18% were between the ages 25 and 34.

Comparing to employees rather than the whole population

A better measure might be to look at the proportion of employees who are in these age groups. 9% of all employees age 16 to 24 were union members that year and 20% of all employees were aged 25 to 34.

Trade union membership is highest among people over the age of 50, they accounted for 39% of all union members and 33% of all employees this age were union members in 2015.

Overall, 25% of employees of any age were members of trade unions, or around 6.5 million people. This has been declining over the past 20 years, though the decline has been greater among men than women.

Although the number of employees who are trade union members has remained largely consistent during this time period, the proportion has decreased because membership has not kept pace with the overall increase in employees in the UK.

This factcheck is part of a roundup of BBC Question Time. Read the roundup.


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