From Statistics Explained
- Data from August 2012. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
This article presents recent European Union (EU) employment statistics, including an analysis based on important socioeconomic dimensions: employment statistics show significant differences by gender, age and educational level attained; there are also considerable disparities across EU Member States and regions within these Member States.
Labour market statistics are at the heart of many EU policies following the introduction of an employment chapter into the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997. The employment rate, in other words the proportion of the working age population in employment, is considered as a key social indicator for analytical purposes when studying developments within labour markets.
Main statistical findings
Employment rates by gender, age and educational attainment
Having peaked in 2008 at 65.8 %, the EU-27 employment rate for persons aged 15 to 64, as measured by the EU’s labour force survey (EU LFS), decreased during successive years to stand at 64.1 % in 2010. This decrease during the global financial and economic crisis – a total fall of 1.7 percentage points – was halted in 2011 when there was a small increase in the EU-27 employment rate, to stand at 64.3 % (see Table 1). Among the EU Member States, employment rates reached highs in the range of 72 % to 74 % in Austria, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, peaking at 74.9 % in the Netherlands. At the other end of the scale, employment rates were below 60 % in ten of the EU Member States, with the lowest rates being recorded in Italy (56.9 %), Hungary (55.8 %) and Greece (55.6 %) – see Figure 1.
Employment rates vary considerably not only across but also within the EU Member States according to regional patterns, with a relatively high dispersion (as measured by the coefficient of variation for regions at the NUTS level 2) observed across Italy (17.9 %) in 2011; there was also a relatively high degree of dispersion across regions in Spain (10.0 %), while Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Belgium all reported coefficients between 8 % and 9 %. By contrast, there was relatively little divergence in employment rates across the regions of Greece, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, Portugal or Denmark (all below 4 %). The dispersion of regional employment across the whole of the EU-27 was higher in 2011 than it had been five years earlier, increasing by 1.1 percentage points – see Figure 2.
Employment rates are generally lower among women and older workers. In 2011, the employment rate for men stood at 70.1 % in the EU-27, as compared with 58.5 % for women. A longer-term comparison shows that while the employment rate for men in 2011 was below its corresponding level ten years earlier (70.9 % in 2001), there was a marked increase in the proportion of women in employment – rising 4.2 percentage points from 54.3 % in 2001 – see Table 2.
Male employment rates were consistently higher than those for women across all of the EU Member States in 2011. Nevertheless, there were considerable disparities, as the difference between employment rates by sex was as wide as 32.6 percentage points in Malta – where the lowest female employment rate was recorded (41.0 %); Italy and Greece reported a difference of more than 20 percentage points. By contrast, there was almost no difference in employment rates by sex in Lithuania, where the female rate (60.5 %) was just 0.4 percentage points lower than that for men; the difference was also relatively small in Latvia (2.1 percentage points) and in Finland (3.2 points) – see Figure 3.
As with the female employment rate, there was evidence that the employment rate of older workers (aged between 55 and 64) continued to expand despite the financial and economic crisis; it reached 47.4 % in 2011 extending an unbroken series of increases that started in 1998 (36.2 %). In 2010 there were ten EU Member States that had an employment rate for older workers that was between 50 % and 60 %, while by far the highest rate was recorded in Sweden (72.3 %) – see Table 2. A more detailed analysis of employment rates by age group is provided in Figure 4 – which confirmed that the highest employment rates were consistently recorded among those aged 25-54.
Employment rates also vary considerably according to levels of educational attainment: for statistics on this issue employment rates are based on the age group 25 to 64 rather than 15 to 64. The employment rate of those who had completed a tertiary education was 83.7 % across the EU-27 in 2011 (see Table 3), much higher than the rate (53.5 %) for those who had attained a primary or lower secondary education. The EU-27 employment rate of persons with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education was 73.2 %. The largest falls in employment rates since the beginning of the financial and economic crisis (comparing 2008 with 2011) were witnessed for persons with a primary or lower secondary education.
Part-time and fixed-term contracts
The proportion of the EU-27 workforce reporting that their main job was part-time increased steadily from 16.2 % in 2001 to 19.5 % by 2011. The highest proportion of part-time workers was found in the Netherlands (49.1 % in 2011), followed by the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Austria, where part-time work accounted in each case for over a quarter (25 % to 27 %) of those in employment. By contrast, part-time employment was relatively uncommon in Bulgaria (2.4 % of employment) and Slovakia (4.1 %) – see Table 5.
The incidence of part-time work differs significantly between men and women. Just under one third (32.1 %) of women employed in the EU-27 worked on a part-time basis in 2011, a much higher proportion than the corresponding share for men (9.0 %). Three quarters (76.7 %) of all women employed in the Netherlands worked on a part-time basis in 2011, by far the highest rate among the EU Member States .
Having fallen to 13.6 % in 2009, the proportion of employees in the EU-27 with a contract of limited duration (fixed-term employment) rose to 13.9 % in 2010 and 14.0 % in 2011. More than one in four employees in Poland and Spain had a temporary contract in 2011 and the proportion was close to this level in Portugal (22.2 %) – see Figure 6. Among the remaining EU Member States, the share of employees working on a contract of limited duration ranged from 18.2 % in the Netherlands down to just 2.8 % in Lithuania and 1.5 % in Romania. The considerable range in the propensity to use limited duration contracts between EU Member States may, at least to some degree, reflect national practices, the supply and demand of labour, employer assessments regarding potential growth/contraction, and the ease with which employers can hire or fire.
Data sources and availability
The main data source for labour market statistics is the EU’s labour force survey (EU LFS); another frequently used source for employment statistics is national accounts. Both of these sources use similar employment definitions based on international standards from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the system of national accounts respectively. A third potential source for information relating to employment statistics is that of enterprise statistics. The data source for all of the information presented in this article is the EU LFS.
The EU LFS is a quarterly sample survey covering the population in private households in the EU, EFTA (except Liechtenstein) and candidate countries. It provides annual  and quarterly results in relation to the labour participation of persons aged 15 and over. The EU LFS collects information on labour force status (all persons being either in employment, unemployed or economically inactive), employment characteristics, working time, job search among the unemployed, levels of education, recent education and training, as well as each individuals’ demographic background and family composition.
The EU LFS sample size amounts to approximately 1.5 million individuals each quarter. The quarterly sampling rates vary between 0.2 % and 3.3 % in each country. Eurostat started the collection of LFS micro data in 1983 with one reference quarter per year (usually the spring). During the period from 1998 to 2005 the survey underwent a transition to a continuous quarterly survey; all 27 Member States now provide quarterly results.
Definition of employment and main employment characteristics
The economically active population (labour force) comprises employed and unemployed persons. The EU LFS defines persons in employment as those aged 15 and over, who, during the reference week, performed some work, even for just one hour per week, for pay, profit or family gain. The labour force also includes people who were not at work but had a job or business from which they were temporarily absent, for example, because of illness, holidays, industrial disputes, education or training.
Employment can be measured in terms of the number of persons or jobs, in full-time equivalents or in hours worked. All the estimates presented use the number of persons; the information presented for employment rates is also built on estimates for the number of persons. Employment statistics are frequently reported as employment rates to discount the changing size of countries’ populations over time and to facilitate comparisons between countries of different sizes. These rates are typically published for the working age population, which is generally considered to be those aged between 15 and 64 years, although the age range of 16 to 64 is used in Spain, Sweden (only until 2001) and the United Kingdom, as well as in Iceland; this age group (15 to 64 years) is also a standard used by other international statistical organisations.
Some main employment characteristics, as defined by the EU LFS, include:
- employees are defined as those who work for a public or private employer and who receive compensation in the form of wages, salaries, payment by results, or payment in kind; non-conscript members of the armed forces are also included;
- self-employed persons work in their own business, farm or professional practice. A self-employed person is considered to be working during the reference week if she/he meets one of the following criteria: works for the purpose of earning profit; spends time on the operation of a business; or is currently establishing a business;
- a full-time/part-time distinction in the main job is declared by the respondent, except in Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands, where thresholds for usual hours worked are used;
- indicators for employed persons with a second job refer only to people with more than one job at the same time; people having changed job during the reference week are not counted as having two jobs;
- an employee is considered as having a temporary job if employer and employee agree that its end is determined by objective conditions, such as a specific date, the completion of an assignment, or the return of an employee who is temporarily replaced. Typical cases include: people in seasonal employment; people engaged by an agency or employment exchange and hired to a third party to perform a specific task (unless there is a written work contract of unlimited duration); people with specific training contracts.
The dispersion of regional (NUTS level 2) employment rates shows regional differences in employment within countries and between groups of countries. This measure is zero when employment rates across all regions are identical, and will rise as the differences between regional employment rates increase. The indicator is not applicable for several countries as these comprise only one or two NUTS level 2 regions. However, the employment rates of these countries (regions) are used to compute the indicator at a European level.
Employment statistics can be used for a number of different analyses, including macroeconomic (in other words, labour as a production factor), productivity or competitiveness studies. They can also be used to study a range of social and behavioural aspects related to an individual’s employment situation, such as the social integration of minorities, or employment as a source of household income.
Employment is both a structural indicator and a short-term indicator. As a structural indicator, it may shed light on the structure of labour markets and economic systems, as measured through the balance of labour supply and demand, or the quality of employment. As a short-term indicator, employment follows the business cycle; however, it has limits in this respect, as employment is often referred to as a lagging indicator.
Employment statistics are at the heart of many EU policies. The European employment strategy (EES) was launched at the Luxembourg jobs summit in November 1997 and was revamped in 2005 to align the EU's employment strategy more closely to a set of revised Lisbon objectives, and in July 2008, employment policy guidelines for the period 2008 to 2010 were updated.
In March 2010, the European Commission launched the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth; this was formally adopted by the European Council in June 2010. The European Council agreed on five headline targets, the first being to raise the employment rate for women and men aged 20 to 64 years old to 75 % by 2020. Member States may set their own national targets in the light of these headline targets and draw up national reform programmes that include the actions they aim to undertake in order to implement the strategy. The implementation of the strategy might be achieved, at least in part, through the promotion of flexible working conditions – for example, part-time work or work from home – which are thought to stimulate labour participation. Among others, some initiatives that may encourage more people to enter the labour market include improvements in the availability of childcare facilities, providing more opportunities for lifelong learning, or facilitating job mobility. Central to this theme is the issue of ‘flexicurity’: policies that simultaneously address the flexibility of labour markets, work organisation and labour relations, while taking into account the reconciliation of work and private life, employment security and social protection.
In line with the Europe 2020 strategy, the EES encourages measures to help meet three headline targets by 2020, namely, for:
- 75 % of people aged 20 to 64 to be in work;
- school drop-out rates to fall below 10 %, and for at least 40 % of 30 to 34-year-olds to have completed a third level education;
- at least 20 million fewer people to be in or at-risk-of-poverty and social exclusion.
The slow pace of recovery from the financial and economic crisis and mounting evidence of rising unemployment led the European Commission to make a set of proposals on 18 April 2012 for measures to boost jobs through a dedicated employment package. These proposals, among others, target the demand-side of job creation, setting out ways for Member States to encourage hiring by reducing taxes on labour or supporting business start-ups. The proposals also aim to identify economic areas with the potential for considerable job creation – such as, the green economy, health services and information and communications technology.
Further Eurostat information
- Living conditions in Europe – Statistical pocketbook – Data 2003-2006
- The social situation in the European Union 2009
- LFS main indicators (t_lfsi)
- Population, activity and inactivity - LFS adjusted series (t_lfsi_act)
- Employment - LFS adjusted series (t_lfsi_emp)
- Employment growth by gender (tsieb050)
- Employment rate by gender (tsiem010)
- Employment rate of older workers by gender (tsiem020)
- Persons employed part-time - Total (tps00159)
- Employees with a contract of limited duration (annual average) (tps00073)
- LFS series - Detailed annual survey results (t_lfsa)
- Employment rate, by highest level of education attained (tsdec430)
- Employed persons with a second job (tps00074)
- Hours worked per week of full-time employment (tps00071)
- Hours worked per week of part-time employment (tps00070)
- Unemployment rates of the population aged 25-64 by level of education (tps00066)
- LFS main indicators (lfsi)
- Population, activity and inactivity - LFS adjusted series (lfsi_act)
- Employment - LFS adjusted series (lfsi_emp)
- Unemployment - LFS adjusted series (une)
- Education and training - LFS adjusted series (lfsi_edu)
- LFS series - Detailed quarterly survey results (from 1998) (lfsq) (Information on NACE Rev.2)
- Total population - LFS series (lfsq_pop)
- Activity and activity rates - LFS series (lfsq_act)
- Employment - LFS series (lfsq_emp)
- Employment rates - LFS series (lfsq_emprt)
- Self employed - LFS series (lfsq_empself)
- Employees - LFS series (lfsq_emppaid)
- Temporary employment - LFS series (lfsq_emptemp)
- Full-time and part-time employment - LFS series (lfsq_empftpt)
- Population in employment having a second job - LFS series (lfsq_emp2job)
- Working time - LFS series (lfsq_wrktime)
- Total unemployment - LFS series (lfsq_unemp)
- Inactivity - LFS series (lfsq_inac)
- LFS series - Detailed annual survey results (lfsa) (Information on NACE Rev.2)
- Total population (lfsa_pop)
- Activity and activity rates - LFS series (lfsa_act)
- Employment - LFS series (lfsa_emp)
- Employment rates - LFS series (lfsa_emprt)
- Self employed - LFS series (lfsa_empself)
- Employees - LFS series (lfsa_emppaid)
- Temporary employment - LFS series (lfsa_emptemp)
- Full-time and part-time employment - LFS series (lfsa_empftpt)
- Population in employment having a second job - LFS series (lfsa_emp2job)
- Population in employment working during asocial hours - LFS series (lfsa_empasoc)
- Working time - LFS series (lfsa_wrktime)
- Total unemployment - LFS series (lfsa_unemp)
- Inactivity - LFS series (lfsa_inac)
- LFS series -Specific topics (lfst)
- Households statistics - LFS series (lfst_hh)
- LFS regional series (lfst_r)
- LFS ad-hoc modules (lfso)
Methodology / Metadata
- Behind and beyond the (headcount) employment rate - 2013 edition
- Employment and unemployment (Labour Force Survey) (ESMS metadata file - employ_esms)
- Employment growth and activity branches - Annual averages (ESMS metadata file - lfsi_grt_a_esms)
- Labour Force Survey in the EU, Candidate and EFTA countries - Main characteristics of the 2008 national surveys - 2009 Edition
- LFS ad-hoc modules (ESMS metadata file - lfso_esms)
- LFS main indicators (ESMS metadata file - lfsi_esms)
- LFS series - Detailed annual survey results (ESMS metadata file - lfsa_esms)
- LFS series - Detailed quarterly survey results (from 1998) (ESMS metadata file - lfsq_esms)
- Quality Report of the European Union Labour Force Survey 2007