Working-age Roman Catholics are more likely than Protestants to be unemployed, but the gap is closing, official figures have revealed.
A workforce religion report published yesterday by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) reveals that the most recent data shows that 75 per cent of working-age Protestants are in work, as opposed to 70 per cent of their Catholic counterparts.
The report, which covers 2012, also shows that although the differences between Catholic and Protestant employment chances are now much less significant, Catholics still make up a majority (52 per cent) of the unemployed — despite making up just 45 per cent of the population.
But over the last two decades there has been a marked trend which has seen the gap between the proportions of working-age Protestants and Catholics in employment close.
In 1992, there was a gap of 16 percentage points between the proportion of working-age Protestants in employment and the proportion of working-age Catholics in employment.
By 2012, that gap had fallen to just five percentage points.
Across the religious divide, there has been an overall increase in employment rates over the last two decades as the long period of economic growth benefited both communities.
However, from 2008, as the recession took hold, unemployment in both communities began to rise once more.
And the period also saw dramatic – and very similar – falls in the numbers of Catholics (down from 32 per cent to 12 per cent) and Protestants (down from 30 per cent to 13 per cent) who have no qualifications.
But the report also revealed significant geographical variations.
In outer Belfast, Catholics are slightly more likely to be economically active, while it is in the west and the south of the Province that Protestants are furthest ahead of Catholics in terms of being in work.
The report said that the reasons for the differences in Catholic and Protestant employment rates are “complex and beyond the scope of this publication”.
The report also said that over the last 22 years the proportion of the population aged 16 and over who were Protestant has decreased from 56 per cent to 47 per cent, while the proportion of Catholics increased from 38 per cent to 42 per cent while those classified as ‘other’ or ‘non-determined’ has almost doubled to 11 per cent.
The report is compiled by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), which conducts surveys to compile the figures.