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Employment rates and Europe 2020 national targets

Data from April 2020.

Planned update of the article: April 2021.


In 2019, the employment rate in EU-27 was the highest ever since the launching of the Europe 2020 strategy: 73.1 % for persons aged 20-64

Seventeen EU Member States reached their EU 2020 employment rate goal in 2019

The gender employment gap has shrunken from 15.3 to 11.7 percentage points in the last decade

2020-04-21 111707.png Map 1: Employment rates
Click on the map for an interactive view of the data.

In 2010, the European Council adopted the Europe 2020 strategy [1]. The emphasis was on the reinforcement of the EU economy and on the preparation of challenges for the next decade. With regard to employment, the aim was to increase the employment rate of the population aged 20 to 64 years to at least 75 % by 2020. In addition, the EU Member States set national targets for their employment rate in 2020. The reference data source has been set as the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) and the starting reference year as 2008.

This article provides insight in the progression towards the EU and national targets of the Europe 2020 strategy related to the area of employment. Overall, there has been a clear shift in the European labour market since the lauching of the Europe 2020 strategy. In 2019 the EU-27 had the highest employment rate since 2008 and is progressing towards its 75 % EU target. Moreover, almost two thirds of the EU Member States have already reached their national target. The gender employment gap has significantly decreased over the last decade and there has been a notable rise in employment for the female population as well as for the senior population.

Please note that the employment rate gives information on the share of the adult population who have a paid job (in other words, of the employed persons). They can be paid in cash or in kind and the person can have a job as an employee, as a self-employed person or as a family worker. In most cases, a paid job is an important indicator of the living standard of people and the employment rate mainly determines the socio-economic conditions of individuals in a country. Moreover, it provides key macroeconomic information as it describes to what extent human resources of a country are mobilized for economic purposes.

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Persistent increase of the employment rate at EU level

In 2019, the employment rate of persons aged 20-64 in the EU-27 reached 73.1 %. This was the highest rate recorded since 2008 (starting reference year for the employment area of the Europe 2020 strategy). Just more than one decade before, in 2008, the financial crisis took place. In that year the employment rate was 69.5 %, with on average a drop in rate the following years until 2013 (Figure 1).

The employment rate has grown overall by 3.6 percentage points (p.p.) since 2008 and 5.6 p.p. since 2013. Between 2014 and 2018, there was a persistent year-on-year growth of at least 1 p.p. The employment rate increase between 2018 and 2019 was a bit smaller (+ 0.7 p.p.). In 2019, the EU-27 was 1.9 p.p. away from its 75 % employment target.

Figure 1: Evolution of employment rate, 20 to 64 years, EU-27, 2008-2019 (%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a) and EU2020 national targets

EU Member States compared

As shown on Map 1, there are notable differences in employment rate across EU Member States. In 2019, there was a difference of 20.9 p.p. between the country with the highest and the country with the lowest employment rate; Sweden is at the top end with 82.1 % while Greece is at the bottom end with 61.2 %. Between these two extremes, four major groups of countries can be distinguished: one with employment rates lower than 69.9 %, one with rates ranging from 70.0 to 74.9 %, one with rates within the range of 75.0 to 79.9 % and one with rates of 80.0 % or above. Italy, Croatia and Spain are part of the first group, while the second group consists of Belgium, Romania, France, Luxembourg, Poland and Slovakia. The third group is the biggest one and is made out of Bulgaria, Ireland, Hungary, Cyprus, Portugal, Slovenia, Austria, Malta, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark. The last group, with the highest employment rates, contains the remaining EU Member States, i.e. the Netherlands, Estonia, Czechia and Germany.

2020-04-21 111707.png Map 1: Employment rates
Click on the map for an interactive view of the data.

Seventeen EU Member States reached their target

As mentioned before, one of the targets of the Europe 2020 strategy is to have an employment rate of at least 75 % for persons aged 20 to 64 years. This objective has been translated into national targets that reflect the situation and possibilities of each Member State. The national targets vary considerably across countries, ranging from around 63 % in Croatia to 80 % in Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden (Table 1).

In 2019, seventeen EU Member States have already reached and exceeded their national target: Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, Czechia, Slovenia, Portugal, Cyprus, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland, Malta, Romania, Ireland and Croatia. The group of countries corresponding to an employment rate less than 5 p.p. away from their national target includes Denmark, Finland, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy. Spain and Greece are between 5 and 10 p.p. away from their national target.

Table1: National EU 2020 employment rate targets and attainment level, 20-64 years, EU-27, 2008 and 2019 (%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a) and EU2020 national targets

Countries that have already reached their goal nevertheless show different patterns. Sweden, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Ireland and Croatia had already reached their national employment rate target more than a decade ago. The Netherlands, Germany, Czechia, Slovenia, Portugal, Lithuania and Slovakia were less than 5 p.p away from their target while Poland and Romania were between 5 and 10 p.p away from it. Hungary and Malta are the two countries that had to bridge the biggest gap between their starting point in 2008 and their achieved goal in 2019; Hungary has overcome a gap of 13.8 p.p., Malta even bridged a gap of 18.0 p.p. within the same period.

Among the ten Member States that have not reached their goal yet, different paths were also followed over the last decade. Denmark, Finland, Austria, France, Luxembourg and Italy were in 2008 and still in 2019 less than 5 p.p. away from their national target. On the other hand, Bulgaria and Belgium progressed since 2008 as they were at that time between 5 to 10 p.p. away from their target and in 2019 less than 5 p.p. away from it. For Spain, not much has changed over the last decade; it was and is still between 5 to 10 p.p. away from its national target. Finally, Greece was closer to its target in 2008 (less than 5 p.p. away) than in 2019 (between 5 to 10 p.p. away).

Gender employment gap shrinking, but still lasting

The gender gap in employment, as well as the employment rate of men and women, in each country is shown for 2008 and 2019 in Figure 2. Countries are ranked based on the size of the gender employment gap in 2019. The longer the line, the bigger the gender gap.

For EU-27, the gender employment gap has diminished in 2019 compared with 2008: from 15.3 to 11.7 p.p. This decrease at EU-level is the result of the increase of women's employment rate. During the last decade, the employment rate for men has practically remained unchanged and stabilized.

Figure 2: Gender gap in employment, 20-64 years, 2008 and 2019 (%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

The Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, Sweden, Latvia, Finland and Lithuania are the only Member States that have fulfilled the EU employment rate target for both men and women in 2019 (75 %). In contrast, Greece, Italy, Spain, Croatia and Belgium have not achieved that goal, neither for men nor for women.

In 2019 compared with 2008, the majority of the Member States show a decrease in the gender employment gap; only Romania and Hungary show an increase in the gap between sexes. Moreover, over the same period of time, the greater part of the Member States show increased rates for both sexes, with some exceptions. Greece shows a drop in employment rate for both men and women, while Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Croatia, Belgium and Denmark display increased employment rates for women, but decreased employment rates for men. On the other hand, in Ireland, Luxembourg, France and Latvia the employment rate for men was stable in 2008 compared to 2019, while women's employment rate has increased.

Overall, the decreasing gender gaps in employment across countries can consequently be explained by the following two factors: (i) in one half of the EU Member States, this is due to the growing employment rate of both men and women, with a faster increase among women than among men, and (ii) in the other half of the countries, this is due to decreasing employment rates among men, with at the same time increasing rates among women.

More seniors in employment ...

The European Union has, in addition to the goal to increase the employment rate among women, the policy target to increase the employment rate of the senior population.

The change in employment rate from 2008 to 2019 largely depends on the age for both sexes (Figure 3): among senior men and women aged 55-64, the employment rate increased by + 13.1 and + 17.8 p.p.; among the young people aged 15-24 it decreased by - 2.3 and - 0.7 p.p. respectively. Interestingly, for middle aged men (aged 25-54) the employment rate has decreased by - 0.3 p.p., while it increased for women in the same age group (+ 3.2 p.p.).

Comparing the employment rate of 2019 with the Europe 2020 target at EU level, only the group of middle aged men (aged 25-54) shows an employment rate above the 75 % EU target. The highest employment rate for this group is recorded in 2008 (86.7 %). For middle aged women the opposite is shown: since 2013 there is a gradual and steady increase in employment rate with the highest rate recorded in 2019, i.e. 74.8 % which is just - 0.2 p.p. away from the EU 2020 target.

Figure 3: Employment rate by sex and age group, EU-27, 2008-2019 (%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

... and more people with high education level in employment

The comparison between 2008 and 2019 of the employment rate by level of education at EU-level shows an increase of the employment rate for both men and women (aged 20-64) with medium and high educational attainment level (Figure 4).

Please note that a high educational attainment level refers to tertiary education (short-cycle tertiary, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral levels; ISCED levels 5-8). A medium educational attainment level means to have completed an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED levels 3-4), while a low educational attainment level refers to having only attained a primary or lower secondary education (ISCED levels 0-2).

Women (resp. men) with medium education level display an employment rate increase of + 3.1 p.p (resp. + 1.7 p.p), and women (resp. men) with high education level show an increase of + 1.9 p.p (resp. + 0.9 p.p). The employment rate for women with low education level has also slightly risen (+ 0.5 p.p), while the corresponding rate for men has decreased (- 2.3 p.p) over the same period of time.

The employment rate of those with a high level of education remains the highest both in 2008 and 2019, with an employment rate of 81.8 % for women and even a rate of 88.2 % for men in 2019 in the EU-27.

Figure 4: Employment rate by sex and educational attainment level, EU-27, 2008-2019 (%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsi_educ_a)

Narrower gap between men and women with high education level

The employment rate of men is always higher or equal than the one of women, whatever the education level and the age group. This pattern is clearly shown in Figure 5. Nevertheless, the gender employment gap (difference in length between blue and orange bar) decreases with the increase of education level and is even absent for highly educated youth of less than 25 years old. In addition, the differences in employment rate of highly educated men versus highly educated women correspond to a relatively small gender gap, i.e. 6.6 and 7.7 p.p. for those aged 25-54 and 55-64 respectively. On the opposite, the gender employment gap is the highest for low educated persons aged 25-54 years, with 23.4 p.p. difference between male and female employment rates. The employment gap between sexes is also very high for low educated persons aged 55-64 (17.9 p.p.).

Figure 5: Employment rate by sex, age group and educational attainment level, EU-27, 2019 (%) - Source: Eurostat (lfsi_educ_a)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

Source: The European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) is the largest European household sample survey providing quarterly and annual results on labour participation of people aged 15 and over as well as on persons outside the labour force. It covers residents in private households. Conscripts in military or community service are not included in the results.

Reference period: Yearly results are obtained as averages of the four quarters in the year.

Coverage: The results from the survey currently cover all European Union Member States, the United Kingdom, the EFTA Member States of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, as well as the candidate countries Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. For Cyprus, the survey covers only the areas of Cyprus controlled by the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

European aggregates: EU refers to the sum of EU-27 Member States. If data are unavailable for a country, the calculation of the corresponding aggregates takes into account the data for the same country for the most recent period available. Such cases are indicated.

Definitions: The concepts and definitions used in the survey follow the guidelines of the International Labour Organisation. Employment covers persons aged 15 years and over (16 and over in Spain and Italy, 15-74 years in Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, and 16-74 years in Iceland), living in private households, who during the reference week performed work, even for just one hour, for pay, profit or family gain, or were not at work but had a job or business from which they were temporarily absent, for example because of illness, holidays, industrial dispute or education and training.

The LFS employment concept differs from national accounts domestic employment, as the latter sets no limit on age or type of household, and also includes the non-resident population contributing to GDP and conscripts in military or community service.

The EU-LFS is based on the same target populations and uses the same definitions in all countries, which means that the results are comparable between the countries.

Five different articles on detailed technical and methodological information is linked from the overview page EU labour force survey.

Please note that Eurostat provides two sets of indicators linked to the annual employment rate, which serve different purposes and which in some cases differ from each other:

1) The main indicators, which are seasonally adjusted. They include the headline indicators under the EU2020 Strategy and are consequently used for monitoring the EU 2020 targets (at EU and national levels). They have only a few breakdowns and normally refer to the age group 20-64. Please note that for France, two series are published: one including overseas departments starting in 2003, and one for metropolitan France, excluding overseas departments, starting in 1992. The latter is evaluated in the EU2020 strategy, and also included in the relevant EU and EA aggregates.

2) The detailed results, which are not seasonally adjusted. They have a large number of breakdowns and can therefore be used for more detailed analysis. For France, only one data series is published. This series contains data for metropolitan France until the fourth quarter of 2013, and from 2014 on, also the French overseas departments.

This article presents annual results for some indicators from the "main indicators" set.


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 2008–2010 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. EU 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. 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;
- rates of early school leaving to reduce below 10 %, and for at least 40 % of 30 to 34-year-olds to have completed a tertiary education;
- at least 20 million fewer people to be in or at-risk-of-poverty and social exclusion.

More recently, the European Pillar of Social Rights has been jointly signed by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on 17 November 2017. Employment and social policies are the main fields of interest of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which is about delivering new and more effective rights for citizens. It has 3 main categories: (1) Equal opportunities and access to the labour market, (2) Fair working conditions and (3) Social protection and inclusion. In particular, today's more flexible working arrangements provide new job opportunities especially for the young but can potentially give rise to new precariousness and inequalities. Building a fairer Europe and strengthening its social dimension is a key priority for the Commission. The European Pillar of Social Rights is accompanied by a ‘social scoreboard’ which will monitor the implementation of the Pillar by tracking trends and performances across EU countries in 12 areas and will feed into the European Semester of economic policy coordination. The scoreboard will also serve to assess progress towards a social ‘triple A’ for the EU as a whole.

The EU-LFS is an important source of information about the situation and trends in the national and EU labour markets. Each quarter around 1.8 million interviews are conducted throughout the participating countries to obtain statistical information for some 100 variables. Due to the diversity of information and the large sample size, the EU-LFS is also an important source for other European statistics like Education statistics or Regional statistics.

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