Employment statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from October 2013. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
Table 1: Employment rate, age group 15–64, 2002–12
(%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)
Figure 1: Employment rate, age group 15–64, 2012
(%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)
Table 2: Employment rates for selected population groups, 2002–12
(%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)
Figure 2: Employment rates by sex, age group 15–64, 2012 (1)
(%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)
Figure 3: Employment rates by age group, 2012 (1)
(%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)
Table 3: Employment rate by highest level of education, age group 25-64, 2012
(%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsa_ergaed)
Table 4: Annual employment growth by gender, 2002–12
(% change in the number of employed persons) - Source: Eurostat (lfsi_grt_a)
Table 5: Persons working part-time or with a second job, 2002–12
(% of total employment) - Source: Eurostat (lfsa_eppga), (lfsa_e2gis) and (lfsa_egan)
Figure 4: Persons employed part-time, age group 15–64, 2012 (1)
(% of total employment) - Source: Eurostat (lfsa_eppga)
Figure 5: Proportion of employees with a contract of limited duration, age group 15–64, 2012
(% of total employees) - Source: Eurostat (lfsa_etpga)

This article presents recent European Union (EU) employment statistics, including an analysis based on important socioeconomic dimensions: employment statistics show significant differences by sex, 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 that is in employment, is considered to be a key social indicator for analytical purposes when studying developments within labour markets.

Main statistical findings

Employment rates by sex, age and educational attainment

Having peaked in 2008 at 65.7 %, the EU-28 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 64.0 % 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-28 employment rate, to stand at 64.1 % where it remained in 2012 (see Table 1). Among the EU Member States, employment rates in 2012 reached highs in the range of 72.0 % to 74.0 % in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Sweden, peaking at 75.1 % in the Netherlands. At the other end of the scale, employment rates were below 60.0 % in 11 of the EU-28 Member States, with the lowest rates being recorded in Greece (51.3 %) and Croatia (50.7 %) — see Figure 1.

Employment rates are generally lower among women and older workers. In 2012, the employment rate for men stood at 69.6 % in the EU-28, as compared with 58.5 % for women. A longer-term comparison shows that while the employment rate for men in 2012 was below its corresponding level 10 years earlier (70.3 % in 2002), there was a marked increase in the proportion of women in employment — rising 4.2 percentage points from 54.3 % in 2002 — see Table 2.

Male employment rates were consistently higher than those for women across all of the EU-28 Member States in 2012. Nevertheless, there were considerable disparities, as the difference between employment rates by sex was as wide as 29.1 percentage points in Malta — where the second lowest female employment rate (41.0 %) was recorded. Italy and Greece reported a difference of just less than 20 percentage points, with Greece reporting the lowest female employment rate (41.9 %). Among the non-member countries shown in Table 2 Turkey recorded the largest gender difference in employment rates, the 28.7 % rate for women being 40.5 percentage points below the rate for men; Japan and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia also reported relatively large differences. By contrast, there was almost no difference in employment rates by sex in Lithuania, where the female rate (61.8 %) was just 0.4 percentage points lower than that for men; the difference was also relatively small in Finland (2.3 percentage points) and in Latvia (2.7 points) — see Figure 2.

As with the female employment rate, there was evidence that the employment rate of older workers (aged between 55 and 64) continued to increase despite the financial and economic crisis. For the EU-28 this rate reached 48.8 % in 2012 extending an unbroken series of increases; for the EU-27 it increased each and every year from 36.2 % in 1998 to 48.9 % by 2012. In 2010, there were nine EU-28 Member States that had an employment rate for older workers that was between 50.0 % and 62.0 %, while by far the highest rate was recorded in Sweden (73.0 %) — see Table 2. The three EFTA countries for which data are available also recorded high employment rates for older workers, all over 70.0 % and reaching 79.1 % in Iceland. Equally, Japan and to a lesser extent the United States also recorded relatively high employment rates for older workers. A more detailed analysis of employment rates by age group is provided in Figure 3 — which confirms that the highest employment rates were consistently recorded among those aged 25-54.

Employment rates also vary considerably according to the level 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 83.5 % across the EU-28 in 2012 (see Table 3), much higher than the rate (52.8 %) for those who had attained no more than a primary or lower secondary education. The EU-28 employment rate of persons with at most an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education was 72.8 %. The largest falls in employment rates since the beginning of the financial and economic crisis (comparing 2008 with 2012) were witnessed for persons with at most a primary or lower secondary education and the smallest falls for persons with a tertiary education.

Part-time and fixed-term contracts

The proportion of the EU-28 workforce in the age group 15–64 years reporting that their main job was part-time increased steadily from 15.6 % in 2002 to 19.2 % by 2012. By far the highest proportion of part-time workers in 2012 was found in the Netherlands (49.2 %), followed by the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden, where part-time work accounted in each case for at least a quarter (25.0 % or more) of those in employment. By contrast, part-time employment was relatively uncommon in Bulgaria (2.2 % of employment) and Slovakia (4.0 %) — see Table 5.

The incidence of part-time work differs significantly between men and women. Just under one third (31.9 %) of women aged 15–64 employed in the EU-28 worked on a part-time basis in 2012, a much higher proportion than the corresponding share for men (8.4 %). More than three quarters (76.9 %) of all women employed in the Netherlands worked on a part-time basis in 2012, by far the highest rate among the EU Member States [1].

Having fallen to 13.5 % in 2009, the proportion of employees in the EU-28 with a contract of limited duration (fixed-term employment) rose to 14.0 % in 2011 before dropping back to 13.7 % in 2012. More than one in four employees in Poland had a temporary contract in 2012 and the proportion was also above one in five in Spain (23.7 %) and Portugal (20.7 %) — see Figure 5. Among the remaining EU-28 Member States, the share of employees working on a contract of limited duration ranged from 19.3 % in the Netherlands down to just 2.6 % in Lithuania and 1.7 % 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

Source statistics

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 Organisation (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 within the EU, EFTA (except Liechtenstein) and candidate countries. It provides annual [2] 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 1.8 million individuals each quarter. The quarterly sampling rates vary between 0.2 % and 3.3 % in each country. Eurostat started the collection of LFS microdata in 1983 with one reference quarter per year (usually the spring). During the period from 1998 to 2007 the survey underwent a transition to a continuous quarterly survey; all 28 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.


Employment statistics can be used for a number of different analyses, including macroeconomic (looking at 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 2008–10 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 EU 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.

In December 2012, in the face of high and still rising youth unemployment in several EU Member States, the European Commission proposed a Youth employment package (COM(2012) 727 final). This package included several proposals, including:

  • that all young people up to the age of 25 should receive a quality offer of a job, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed;
  • a consultation of European social partners on a quality framework for traineeships to enable young people to acquire high-quality work experience under safe conditions;
  • a European alliance for apprenticeships to improve the quality and supply of apprenticeships available and outlining ways to reduce obstacles to mobility for young people.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

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 sex (tps00180)
Employment rate by sex (tsdec420)
Employment rate of older workers (tsdde100)
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)
LFS series - Specific topics (t_lfst)
Employment rate of the age group 15-64 by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00007)
Employment rate of the age group 20-64 by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00102)
Employment rate of the age group 55-64 by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00054)


LFS main indicators (lfsi)
Population, activity and inactivity - LFS adjusted series (lfsi_act)
Employment - LFS adjusted series (lfsi_emp)
LFS series - Detailed quarterly survey results (from 1998) (lfsq)
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)
LFS series - Detailed annual survey results (lfsa)
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 unsocial hours - LFS series (lfsa_empasoc)
Working time - LFS series (lfsa_wrktime)
LFS series -Specific topics (lfst)
Households statistics - LFS series (lfst_hh)
LFS regional series (lfst_r)
LFS ad-hoc modules (lfso)
2012. Transition from work to retirement (lfso_12)
2010. Reconciliation between work and family life (lfso_10)
2009. Entry of young people into the labour market (lfso_09)
2008. Labour market situation of migrants (lfso_08)
2007. Work related accidents, health problems and hasardous exposure (lfs_07)
2006. Transition from work into retirement (lfso_06)
2005. Reconciliation between work and family life (lfso_05)
2004. Work organisation and working time arrangements (lfso_04)
2003. Lifelong learning (lfso_03)
2002. Employment of disabled persons (lfso_02)
2000. Transition from school to working life (lfso_00)

Dedicated Section

Methodology / Metadata


ESMS metadata files and EU-LFS methdodology

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

External links


  1. Anyone working fewer than 35 hours a week is considered as working part-time in the Netherlands.
  2. For Switzerland only spring LFS results (for the second quarter) are available and these are used as annual estimates in the respective tables and figures.