Britain has moved from being a nation of shopkeepers to a nation of shop workers, according to new research out this week.

An astonishing 2.7 million people now work in the UK's retail sector, making it by far the biggest ‘employer’. Many are employed in local branches of supermarkets where staff numbers have been swelled in recent years by working mums lured by part-time hours and shift work offered.

The figures from freelance marketplace PeoplePerHour show that nearly a million people work for the big four supermarkets.

Of the 2.7 million people working in retail, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons employ a total of 984,000.

The figures show how Britain has moved from an industrialised nation of miners, steelworkers and other manufacturing jobs to the service sector.

In the early 1800s French emperor Napoleon famously dismissed Britain as a "nation of shopkeepers", meant as an insult to their prowess on the battlefield.

The number of shop workers is far higher than the second biggest employment sector, construction and contracting.

The construction boom means 1.8 million people are employed as builders, bricklayers, electricians and plumbers.

Ramsgate High Street by Phillip Perry

By Phillip Perry

The third biggest employment sector is engineers who now number 800,000, while there are currently 610,000 teachers and 369,868 nurses, according to PeoplePerHour.

The number of designers has risen to 232,000, sparked by the growth in companies specialising in websites, apps and other digital technology.

There are 129,584 policemen in the UK, 117,862 lawyers and 109,000 doctors.

Nearly 102,000 people work in the performing arts, from actors to theatre stage hands. There are 47,000 pilots, 44,300 firemen and 28,000 accountants.

Photographers number 25,000, while there are 21,000 dentists and 21,619 vets.

A total of 1,560,000 people work in the National Health Service, while 432,000 are employed in the armed forces and police combined.

One in four (26%) of employed men work more than 45 hours a week compared to a third (33%) of self employed men.

Only 10 per cent of employed women work more than 45 hours a week, while 15 per cent of self employed women work more than 45 hours a week.

Xenios Thrasyvoulou, of PeoplePerHour, said:

"Our figures show the number of people working in retail outlets has clearly boomed with more supermarket branches, longer opening times and the popularity of online shopping among Britons.

"It is staggering that the big four supermarkets now employ nearly a million people, many working mums attracted by the part-time hours offered.

"The recent recession has forced many into self-employment, but as we enter a recovery period, the number of self employed people continues to grow. It's clear that Brits actively want to be their own boss, choose their own hours and be in control of their destinies."

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