It is difficult to calculate the ratio of men to women in the new Plantation. Most of the surviving surveys were intended to count the number of British adult men and provide little statistical information on women. Impressionistic evidence suggests that many men travelled initially to Ulster on their own, often to assess the prospects that a life on the Plantation lands offered with the intention of returning later with their families. The arrival of the latter was uneven and as late as 1622 undertakers and tenants were recorded as not yet having brought over their wives or children.
On the City of London lands, English women were in a minority in the early years of the Plantation as most of the English men on the City’s lands had been sent to Ireland as workmen and left their families behind in England. One worker on the Drapers’ Company land arranged for his wife to be given an allowance from his wages while he worked in Ireland; and there were probably others who provided for their families in a similar fashion. By the 1620s, some of the workmen had opted to stay in Ireland and sent for their wives to join them. Others mixed freely with local women and there were many complaints concerning the raucous and drunken behaviour of the workmen on the Company’s lands.
Among the Scottish tenants, women appear to have been more in evidence from the beginning as closely-knit family groups formed an important part of the settlement pattern in that community. The close proximity of Scotland also made it logistically feasible for single Scottish men to return home to choose a suitable marriage partner.
In the early years of the Plantation, therefore, the sex ratio was uneven and in many areas, particularly those controlled by the City of London, men must have outnumbered women. It was probably not until the 1620s that the sex ratio became more evenly balanced.
Legally, the women on the Plantation were bound by English common law. The English legal code was restrictive for women but it offered them more protection than they had under the Gaelic system. Single women and widows had the same legal status as men under English common law although married women were legally represented by their husbands. Unlike in Gaelic law, women could inherit family land, in the absence of male heirs; and widows were given greater economic security as they were entitled to a third of their husband’s property for life. By 1622, there were a number of widows living on Plantation estates, enjoying a life interest on part of their late husbands' lands.
Economically, it could also be argued that the Plantation offered women new economic opportunities as towns were developed and women began to operate in the market place and develop the commercial possibilities of their domestic skills such as sewing and food preparation. It was not, however, until the 18th century that women’s work as spinners of linen yarn became central to the Ulster as well as the Irish economy.