Duration of working life - statistics
Data extracted in September 2018
Planned article update: September 2019
Expected duration of working life in the EU in 2017 was 35.9 years, 0.3 years longer than in 2016 and 3.0 years longer than in 2000.
Expected duration of working life in the EU was 4.9 years longer for men (38.3 years) than for women (33.4 years) in 2017.
This article shows the expected average duration of working lives of the adult population in the EU (as well as some candidate and EFTA countries). It provides a different angle of labour market analysis, looking at the entire life cycle of active persons and persons in employment rather than on specific states in the life cycle, such as youth unemployment or early withdrawal from the labour force.
The duration of the working life indicator estimates how long a person who is currently 15 years old will be active on the labour market during his or her life. The indicator shows the average for a given country and year.
The expected duration of working life in the EU in 2017 was 35.9 years. This is 0.3 years longer than in 2016, and 3.0 years longer than in 2000. There is a 4.9 year difference between men and women, with men at 38.3 years, and women at 33.4. The results among the EU Member States range from 31.6 years in Italy to 41.7 years in Sweden. This is exceeded on both ends of the range by non-EU countries: Turkey (29.0) and Iceland (47.0).
Overall country results in 2017
Map 1 shows that the only cases which fall outside a clear-cut west/east divide are Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy, which have shorter working lives than what their geographical position might otherwise lead one to think, and Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Cyprus, which have longer working lives than most of their neighbouring countries.
There are three main groups of countries, with one additional group at each side of the spectrum (each consisting of only one country: Iceland on the very high end and Turkey on the very low end). First, the low ranking countries (below 35 years long working lives) are Malta, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Belgium, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Second, the group of countries where the working lives are between 35.1 and 38.9 years includes Spain, France, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Cyprus, Ireland, Austria, Portugal, Finland, Germany, Estonia and the United Kingdom. Further up on the scale, at 39.2 to 42.5 years, are Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland.
Gender gap in 2017
Figure 1 shows the duration of working life separately for men and women. With the exception of two countries (Lithuania and Latvia), the duration of working life was longer for men than for women. Latvia had no difference in the length of working lives between men and women. Lithuania is the only country where women work longer than men. Among the EU Member States, Malta had the largest gender gap, at 12.0 years. This was, however, exceeded by the candidate country Turkey (20.5 years).
Italy is the Member State with the shortest working life for women (26.8 years) and Sweden is the Member State with the longest (40.7 years). If we include the non-EU countries, Turkey corresponds to the shortest (18.5) and Iceland to the longest (45.2). For men, the shortest working life is recorded in Bulgaria (34.4) and the longest among the EU Member States in Sweden (42.6) and the longest overall in Iceland (48.8).
There is no obvious relation between the length of the working lives and the size of the gender gap. Gender gaps of about 5 years exist in countries with long or very long working lives (the Netherlands, the United Kingdom) and in countries with working lives well below the EU average (Hungary and Belgium).
Development over the period 2000 - 2017
The EU level gender gap has diminished slowly but steadily since the year 2000 (Figure 2). The gap was at 7.2 years in 2000 and reached 4.9 years in 2017. The average working life for women has increased by 4.2 years while for men it has increased by by 1.9 years over this period.
Figure 3 shows the change in the average duration of working life by country over the period 2000-2017. The largest increases in duration of working life (measured in years) are recorded in Hungary, Malta and Estonia. It is interesting to see that countries with very different length of working lives in 2017 (Sweden at 41.7 years and Malta at 34.1 years) nevertheless show similar patterns in growth. Romania was the only country showing a decrease (-2.6 years) since 2000.
Source data for tables and graphs
The duration of working life is calculated using the activity rates from the Labour Force Survey and life tables from demography statistics. Both the activity rates (in 5 year bands) as well as the complete (single year) life tables are published by Eurostat.
The duration of working life indicator is produced at the request of the Employment Committee indicators group, under the EU 2020 strategy. It uses life expectancy tables and activity rates as input for the calculation. The methodology was developed at the Ministry of Labour of Finland, in a paper by Helka Hytti and Ilkka Nio.
A common misunderstanding in the public debate on this indicator is that it shows how long persons must or should work. This is not the case. The indicator is purely descriptive and shows what is happening, not what should be happening.
As it is an average of all adults in the country, the indicator is heavily influenced by the number of inactive persons in a country. In other words, it does not make any claims about how many years the persons who are in employment work. It rather shows the combined effect of:
- what proportion of the adult population is active in each year of their life
- and the life expectancy.
Most of the duration of working life can be explained by the activity rate. An illustration for the female population, comparing women's working life with women's activity rate in each country, is presented in figure 4.
- Duration of working life - annual data (lfsi_dwl_a)