The high level of receipt of disability benefits in the UK was until the 1990s a problem predominantly affecting men. However, the number of women claiming—1.1 million—is now on a similar scale. The decline of heavy industry produced large numbers of men with ill health and limited alternative employment prospects who claimed disability benefits. However, this explanation is problematic for women, who have seen an expansion in employment. We set out a framework that reconciles the central importance of the level of labour demand in explaining worklessness with the paradoxical simultaneous rise of women's employment and receipt of disability benefits. Women claiming disability benefits are overwhelmingly located alongside male claimants in areas where heavy industry has declined, pointing towards linkages between the ‘male’ and ‘female’ sides of the labour market. Additionally, there may be raised knowledge and local acceptance of disability benefits in these locations.