Enlargement countries - labour market statistics

Data extracted in February 2019.

Planned article update: April 2020.

In 2017, employment rates for women were below 50 % in four of the enlargement countries — North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey and Kosovo.

In Albania, nearly two fifths of the labour force was working in agriculture, forestry and fishing in 2017.

Employment rates (persons aged 20-64) by sex, 2017
(% of labour force)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

This article is part of an online publication and provides information on a range of labour market statistics for the European Union (EU) enlargement countries, in other words the candidate countries and potential candidates. Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Turkey currently have candidate status, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo [1] are potential candidates.

The article provides an overview of the labour force characteristics, covering indicators such as activity rates and employment rates, unemployment and long-term unemployment rates, as well as an analysis of the workforce by economic activity.

Full article

Activity rates

The activity rate in the EU-28 for persons aged 20-64 was 78.0 % in 2017, in other words approaching four fifths of all people aged 20-64 were either in employment or were unemployed; this means that they were in the labour force, while the remainder (22.0 %) were economically inactive. The EU-28 activity rate for men was considerably higher, at 84.1 %, some 12.1 percentage points above the corresponding figure for women (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Activity rates (persons aged 20-64) by sex, 2017
(% of total population)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

Activity rates in the enlargement countries were generally much lower than in the EU-28 and this was particularly true for women. The latest data available for 2017 reveal that activity rates for women in the enlargement countries peaked at 63.6 % in Serbia and 63.5 % in Albania, while Montenegro and North Macedonia also reported that more than half of all women aged 20-64 were either in work or available for work. At the other end of the range, the activity rate for women was less than half in Bosnia and Herzegovina, less than two fifths in Turkey and between one fifth and one quarter in Kosovo.

By contrast, activity rates for men in some of the enlargement countries were at similar levels to that recorded in the EU-28: in North Macedonia and Albania the activity rates for men were in fact 0.3 and 0.2 points above the EU-28 average, while in Turkey the activity rate for men was 83.7 %, just 0.4 points lower than the EU-28 average. Among the enlargement countries, the activity rate for men was lowest in Bosnia and Herzegovina, at 71.3 %.

Relatively large gender gaps in activity rates in the enlargement countries

Gender inequality in activity rates may reflect, among other factors, patriarchal family structures, the degree of female empowerment, religious beliefs, other cultural factors, pay differences between men and women, and difficulties in relation to both access to jobs and career development for women.

A comparison between activity rates for men and women in 2017 across the enlargement countries shows that the widest gender gaps were recorded in Kosovo and Turkey, where activity rates for women were 52.5 and 43.7 points lower than the corresponding rates for men. Three of the enlargement countries reported gender gaps of less than 25 points: Albania (20.8 points), Montenegro (15.3 points) and Serbia (15.2 points).

Employment rates

One of the main goals of the Europe 2020 strategy is to raise the EU-28 employment rate (among those aged 20-64) to 75 % by 2020. In 2017, the EU-28’s employment rate was 72.2 %, some 2.8 points below this headline target; note that EU Member States set their own national targets in the light of this overall headline target for the EU. The EU-28 employment rate for men (78.0 %) was some 11.5 points higher than the equivalent rate for women (66.5 %).

The employment rate for men in Turkey was in line with the EU-28 average

Figure 2 (and Table 5 below) show employment rates in 2017 for the EU-28 and the enlargement countries among those aged 20-64. Turkey was the only enlargement country to report an employment rate for men (76.1 %) that was at a similar level as that in the EU-28. Indeed, the employment rate for men in Turkey was considerably higher than any of the rates recorded in the remaining enlargement countries, as the next highest rate was 72.1 % in Albania. Kosovo recorded the lowest employment rate for men, 54.0 %.

Figure 2: Employment rates (persons aged 20-64) by sex, 2017
(% of labour force)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

Employment rates for women were particularly low across the enlargement countries

By contrast, employment rates for women were below 50 % in 2017 in four of the enlargement countries. The highest employment rates for women aged 20-64 were recorded in Albania (55.6 %), Serbia (54.5 %) and Montenegro (51.4 %), while a rate of 43.7 % was registered in North Macedonia. Employment rates for women in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Turkey were just over one third of the labour force (35.1 % and 34.4 %), while the lowest rate was recorded in Kosovo (14.6 %).

Concerning the gender gap for employment rates there was a mixed picture among the enlargement countries, with some widening and others narrowing

The EU-28 employment rate for men (78.0 %) remained considerably higher than the corresponding rate for women (66.5 %) in 2017, despite the gap having closed from 12.2 points in 2012 to 11.5 points by 2017 (see Figure 3). Indeed, the negative effects on employment of the global financial and economic crisis were felt more strongly among men in the EU-28, as their employment rate fell by 3.1 points between 2007 and 2012 before recovering by 3.4 points between 2012 and 2017, while the employment rate for women rose by 0.3 points between 2007 and 2012 and by a further 4.1 points between 2012 and 2017.

Figure 3: Gender gap for employment rates (persons aged 20-64), 2012 and 2017
(percentage points difference, employment rate for men - employment rate for women)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

Among the enlargement countries, the gender gap in employment rates in 2017 was lowest in Montenegro (13.8 points difference between the rates for men and women), while four other enlargement countries recorded gaps that did not exceed 25 points. At the other end of the range, the largest differences between employment rates for men and women were recorded in Kosovo and Turkey, where the gender gaps were as high as 39.4 and 41.7 points respectively.

There was a narrowing of the employment gender gap in three of the enlargement countries between 2012 and 2017, as shown in Figure 3. This was most notably the case in Turkey where the gap narrowed by 2.4 percentage points, while the gap also narrowed in Serbia (note there is a break in series) and to a minor extent in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The employment gender gap widened elsewhere, most notably in Kosovo where it increased by 5.2 points.

Analysis of employment by economic activity

Services employed just over 7 out of every 10 persons (71.9 %) in the EU-28’s workforce in 2017. Industry had the second largest workforce — as shown in Table 1 — with 17.2 % of the workforce, while the shares of total employment in construction (6.7 %) and agriculture, forestry and fishing (4.2 %) were much lower.

Table 1: Analysis of employment (persons aged 15 or more) by economic activity (NACE Rev. 2), 2012 and 2017
(% of total employment)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_egana) and (lfsa_egan2)

A higher proportion of the workforce in Montenegro worked in services when compared with the EU-28

The distribution of employment between the different economic activities shows that the relative weight of services in the enlargement countries was generally lower than in the EU-28. Montenegro was the only exception, as three quarters (75.0 %) of those employed were working in services in 2017; this figure may be explained, at least in part, by considerable activity in tourism and related activities. Services accounted for more than half of the workforce in the remaining enlargement countries except for Albania where the share of services in total employment was 42.4 %.

In Albania, nearly two fifths of the workforce was engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing

By contrast, the relative share of total employment in agriculture, forestry and fishing was often considerably higher in the enlargement countries than in the EU-28. This was particularly true in Albania, as nearly two fifths (38.2 %) of the workforce was employed in these activities in 2017. Agriculture, forestry and fishing accounted for just less than one fifth of the total workforce in Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a slightly smaller share in Serbia (17.2 %) and North Macedonia (16.2 %). By contrast, the proportion of those employed within agriculture, forestry and fishing was under one tenth in Montenegro (7.9 %) and at a level that was close to that seen in the EU-28 in Kosovo (4.4 %).

Across the enlargement countries, the share of those employed by industry in 2017 was often slightly higher than the share recorded for the EU-28, although this was not the case in the service-dominated economy of Montenegro or in the agriculture-dominated economy of Albania, where lower shares were recorded.

Analysis of employment by working status

Just over one out of every seven people in employment in the EU-28 in 2017 were self-employed or a family worker; the vast majority (85.3 %) of the workforce were employees. The relative share of the self-employed and family workers in total employment in the EU-28 declined during the period 2012-2017 (as shown in Table 2); this share tends to fall gradually during periods of economic growth and rise during periods of more testing economic conditions (for example, at the height of the global financial and economic crisis in 2009 and 2010).

Table 2: Analysis of employment (persons aged 15-64) by working status, 2012-2017
(% of total employment)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_egaps)

The structure of employment by working status was quite different in most of the enlargement countries. Indeed, self-employed and family workers accounted for more than half (55.9 %) of total employment in Albania, close to one third (32.7 %) of total employment in Turkey, and just less than this in Kosovo (31.2 %) and Serbia (30.6 %), while it was between one quarter and one fifth elsewhere. These comparatively high proportions reflect, to some degree, the relative weight of agricultural activities in these countries, with work spread across numerous small scale, family-run farms or farming co-operatives. By contrast, the structure of employment by working status in Montenegro and North Macedonia more closely resembled that of the EU-28, as the shares of self-employed and family workers in total employment were 22.0 % and 23.1 % in 2017, although in contrast to the situation in the EU-28, this share rose between 2013 and 2017 in Montenegro.

Unemployment rates

While in many countries the largest contractions in economic activity as a result of the global financial and economic crisis were recorded in 2009, it was not uncommon to see unemployment rates continuing to increase in 2010 and beyond. Indeed, the EU-28’s annual unemployment rate rose from a low of 7.0 % in 2008 to reach 10.8 % by 2013 (see Table 3). However, in the most recent four years for which data are available the EU-28 unemployment rate fell by 0.6-1.0 points each year, such that by 2017 the share of the labour force that were unemployed stood at 7.6 %.

Table 3: Unemployment rates (persons aged 15-74), 2007-2017
(% of labour force)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_urgan)

More than one fifth of the labour forces in Kosovo, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were without work

By contrast, the situation in the enlargement countries was more varied. At the onset of the financial and economic crisis (between 2008 and 2009) unemployment rates increased in all enlargement countries except for Kosovo and North Macedonia; in fact, North Macedonia recorded a fall in its unemployment rate for every year shown in Table 3. In Montenegro, the unemployment rate stabilised between 2010 and 2012 and subsequently fell, although it increased slightly in 2016. In Serbia, the unemployment rate peaked in 2012 and then fell. In Bosnia and Herzegovina a similar development was observed, with a peak for the unemployment rate in 2012, followed by a decline (interrupted in 2015 by a small increase). In Turkey and Albania, developments were more complex: in Turkey, after rising in 2009, the unemployment rate fell to a low in 2012 before increasing again through to 2017; in Albania, the increase in 2009 was followed by a small rise and stability in 2010 and 2011, a fall in 2012, a rapid increase to a peak in 2014 and a similarly paced decrease through until 2017, such that the unemployment rate in 2017 was similar to that in 2012.

The highest unemployment rates in 2017 in the enlargement countries were recorded in Kosovo, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where more than one fifth of the labour force were without work. Unemployment rates in the remaining enlargement countries were above the EU-28 average and within the range of 11-16 %.

The long-term unemployment rate in the EU-28 was 3.4 % of the labour force in 2017; the rate was marginally lower for men (3.3 %) than for women (3.5 %) — see Table 4. Turkey was the only enlargement country to record long-term unemployment rates in 2017 that were close to the EU-28 averages, at 1.7 % for men and 3.9 % for women. Otherwise, long-term unemployment rates for men in the enlargement countries were considerably higher than in the EU-28, ranging from just under one tenth of the male labour force in Serbia and Albania to around one fifth (20.6 %) in Kosovo. Long-term unemployment rates for women were generally at a similar level to male rates in most of the enlargement countries, ranging from just under one tenth of the female labour force in Albania and Serbia to around one quarter in Kosovo (25.1 %).

Table 4: Long-term unemployment rates (persons aged 15-74) by sex, 2007-2017
(% of labour force)
Source: Eurostat (une_ltu_a)

Youth unemployment rates were around twice as high as the overall unemployment rate in the enlargement countries and the EU-28

Table 5 provides a summary of developments in labour markets with data for 2007, 2012 and 2017. Aside from long-term unemployment rates, another indicator that has received a great deal of attention in recent years is the youth unemployment rate. Just over one sixth (16.8 %) of the EU-28’s labour force aged 15-24 was without work in 2017, compared with 23.3 % in 2012 (as youth unemployment had increased during the financial and economic crisis) and 15.8 % in 2007.

Across the enlargement countries, youth unemployment rates were also consistently higher than overall unemployment rates. As with the EU-28, youth unemployment rates tended to be about twice as high as overall unemployment rates. In absolute terms, Turkey was the only enlargement country to record a youth unemployment rate (20.5 %) that was close to the EU-28 average. In the remaining enlargement countries, just over 3 in 10 people aged 15-24 years in the labour force were without work in Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, a share that reached close to one half in Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia, and exceeded half in Kosovo.

Table 5: Employment and unemployment rates, 2007, 2012 and 2017
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_ergan) and (une_rt_a)

Data sources

Data for the enlargement countries are collected for a wide range of indicators each year through a questionnaire that is sent by Eurostat to partner countries which have either the status of being candidate countries or potential candidates. A network of contacts in each country has been established for updating these questionnaires, generally within the national statistical offices, but potentially including representatives of other data-producing organisations (for example, central banks or government ministries). The statistics shown in this article are made available free-of-charge on Eurostat’s website, together with a wide range of other socio-economic indicators collected as part of this initiative.

The main source for European labour force statistics is the European Union labour force survey (EU LFS). This household survey is carried out in all EU Member States in accordance with European legislation; it provides figures at least every quarter. Each enlargement country conducts a labour force survey, although there may be some deviations from EU standards.

The economically active population (labour force) comprises employed and unemployed persons, but not the economically inactive, for example children, students and pensioners as well as people caring for family members; some of these may be of working-age.

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. This definition follows guidelines of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

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, or those aged between 20 and 64 years (the latter ratio takes account of the generally increasing proportion of young people who remain in education after compulsory education has ended).

Eurostat publishes unemployment statistics based on a definition of unemployment provided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for which there are three criteria, namely: being without work, actively seeking work, and being available for work. An unemployed person is defined by Eurostat, as:

  • someone aged 15 to 74 years;
  • without work during the reference week;
  • available to start work within the next two weeks (or has already found a job to start within the next three months);
  • actively having sought employment at some time during the last four weeks.

The activity rate is, for any given age group, the proportion of active persons in relation to the total population for that same age group. The economically active population comprises employed and unemployed persons.

The employment rate is, for any given age group, the percentage of employed persons in relation to the total population of that same age group.

The unemployment rate is, for any given age group, the proportion of people who are unemployed as a share of the total labour force for that same age group.

Tables in this article use the following notation:

Value in italics     data value is forecasted, provisional or estimated and is therefore likely to change;
: not available, confidential or unreliable value.


Labour market statistics are increasingly used to support policymaking and to provide an opportunity to monitor participation in the labour market. In the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis, these statistics have been used to monitor the effects of the crisis on labour markets (which notoriously lag behind fluctuations in economic activity).

In March 2010, the European Commission launched the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. One of the headline targets for the strategy is to raise the employment rate for people aged 20-64 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.

The slow pace of recovery from the financial and economic crisis in the EU 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. 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). Efforts to reduce youth unemployment continued in 2013 as the European Commission presented a Youth employment initiative (COM(2013) 144 final) designed to reinforce and accelerate measures outlined in the Youth employment package. It aimed to support, in particular, young people not in education, employment or training in regions with a youth unemployment rate above 25 %. There followed another Communication Working together for Europe's young people — A call to action on youth unemployment (COM(2013) 447 final) which is designed to accelerate the implementation of a youth guarantee and provide help to EU Member States and businesses so they may recruit more young people. In its December 2016 Communication Investing in Europe's Youth the European Commission proposed a renewed effort to support young people: better opportunities to access employment; better opportunities through education and training; and better opportunities for solidarity, learning mobility and participation. Addressing long-term unemployment is a key employment challenge of the European Commission's jobs and growth strategy and in February 2016 the Council adopted the Recommendation on the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market.

While basic principles and institutional frameworks for producing statistics are already in place, the enlargement countries are expected to increase progressively the volume and quality of their data and to transmit these data to Eurostat in the context of the EU enlargement process. EU standards in the field of statistics require the existence of a statistical infrastructure based on principles such as professional independence, impartiality, relevance, confidentiality of individual data and easy access to official statistics; they cover methodology, classifications and standards for production.

Eurostat has the responsibility to ensure that statistical production of the enlargement countries complies with the EU acquis in the field of statistics. To do so, Eurostat supports the national statistical offices and other producers of official statistics through a range of initiatives, such as pilot surveys, training courses, traineeships, study visits, workshops and seminars, and participation in meetings within the European statistical system (ESS). The ultimate goal is the provision of harmonised, high-quality data that conforms to European and international standards.

Additional information on statistical cooperation with the enlargement countries is provided here.


  1. This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence
Direct access to
Other articles
Dedicated section
External links

Population and social conditions (cpc_ps)
Candidate countries and potential candidates: labour market (cpc_pslm)
Key indicators on EU policy: Structural indicators (cpc_si)
Candidate countries and potential candidates: SI - Employment (cpc_siemp)
Candidate countries and potential candidates: SI - Social Cohesion (cpc_sisoc)
Economy and finance (cpc_ec)
Candidate countries and potential candidates: Annual national accounts — breakdown by branches (cpc_ecnabrk)
LFS main indicators (lfsi)
Employment and activity - LFS adjusted series (lfsi_emp)
Unemployment - LFS adjusted series (une)
LFS series - detailed annual survey results (lfsa)
Employment - LFS series (lfsa_emp)
Employment rates - LFS series (lfsa_emprt)
Total unemployment - LFS series (lfsa_unemp)