Most popular industries to be self-employed

The most popular industries and cities to be self-employed in

Posted on 9th April 2021 by

Nearly 4.4 million people in the UK are currently self-employed, representing 15.3% of employment, a steady increase of 1.2 million since the end of 2000 [1].

Self-employment in the UK was at its highest at the start of 2020, when over 5 million people were self-employed. Following the coronavirus pandemic, self-employment in the UK has fallen to levels not seen since 2015, yet despite this, self-employment in some industries continues to rise [1].

The self-employed make a significant contribution to the UK’s economic output and while some industries are still dealing with the impact of COVID-19, the flexibility and work efficiency of the self-employed will no doubt have a big part to play in the economy’s recovery.

In this blog, we will look at some interesting statistics on self-employment in the UK, including:

  • The most popular industries to be self-employed in right now
  • Types of self-employed individuals
  • Self-employment by gender
  • Self-employment by city region

Number of self-employed people in the UK by industry

IndustryNumber of self-employed people
Professional scientific & technical activities602,000
Human health & social work activities342,000
Wholesale, retail & repair of motor vehicles334,000
Administration & support services319,000
Transport & storage264,000
Information & communication236,000
Agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, energy & water191,000
Accommodation & food services107,000
Financial & insurance activities101,000
Real estate activities63,000
Public admin & defence52,000

Source: Statista

With 811,000 self-employed workers, Construction in the UK is the most popular industry for the self-employed, followed by 602,000 self-employed people working in professional, scientific and technical roles and 342,000 in human health and social work activities, as of the 3rd quarter of 2020.


Types of self-employed individuals

Bar chart showing the types of self-employed individuals in the UK

Source: Office for National Statistics

Research by the Office for National Statistics shows that “Working for yourself” is the most common type of self-employment [2], with over two-thirds reporting that they work for themselves.

19% say they run a business while 15% are the sole director of their own limited company.

12% identify as freelancers while 11% report being partners and a further 10% describe themselves as being a sub-contractor.

(As self-employed individuals may identify as being in more than one category, the total of these results does not equal 100%.)

The self-employed by gender

Statistics from 2019 showed that 66% (two thirds) of self-employed people were men – 3.3 million men in total, while 1.7 million women were self-employed.

Over 25% of self-employed men work in the construction industry while 15% of self-employed women work in the health and social work industry, followed by 14% working in professional, scientific and technical roles.

The top five groups for self-employed men include:

OccupationNumber of self-employed men
Construction and building trades481,000
Road transport drivers292,000
Agricultural and related trades197,000
Artistic, literary and media occupations171,000
Managers and proprietors in other services160,000

Source: Office for National Statistics


The top five groups for self-employed women include:

OccupationNumber of self-employed women
Artistic, literary and media occupations136,500
Hairdressers and related services132,000
Managers and proprietors in other services109,000
Elementary cleaning occupations109,000
Teaching and educational professionals91,000

Source: Office for National Statistics


Self-employment by regions

Unsurprisingly, the city region with the most self-employed people is Greater London followed by Swansea Bay City Region and consequently the West of England.

Percentage of self-employed people by city regions (in 2019):

Horizontal bar chart showing the volume of self-employed by city region

Source: Office for National Statistics

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Author Katherine Ducie, Marketing Executive