Statistics Explained

Duration of working life - statistics

Data extracted in June 2021

Planned article update: July 2022


Expected duration of working life in the EU decreased for the first time in 20 years, going down from 35.9 years in 2019 to 35.7 in 2020.
Expected duration of working life in the EU was 4.8 years longer for men (38.0 years) than for women (33.2 years) in 2020.
Over the last 20 years, the expected duration of working life in the EU increased more for women (+4.5 years) than for men (+2.2 years).

Source: Eurostat (lfsi_dwl_a)

The indicator on duration of working life is an estimation of the number of years a person, at the current age of 15 years, is expected to be in the labour force (i.e. to be employed or unemployed) throughout his or her life. It aims to provide a different angle of the labour market, looking at the entire life cycle of persons in the labour force rather than on specific states in the life cycle, such as youth unemployment or early withdrawal from the labour force.

In this article, the expected average duration of working life is described for the European Union (EU) as a whole, for the 27 EU Member States individually, for three EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) and four candidate countries (Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey).

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Halt in the increase of the expected duration of working life in 2020

The expected average duration of working life in the EU in 2020 was 35.7 years. This was 0.2 years shorter than in 2019, but 3.4 years longer than in 2000. The gender gap in 2020 has shrunk compared with 20 years ago: 4.8 years difference in 2020 against 7.1 years in 2000. In 2020, the estimated expected duration of working life for men was 38.0 years while for women it was 33.2 years. The expected average duration among the EU Member States ranged from 31.2 years in Italy to 42.0 years in Sweden. This was exceeded at both ends of the range by non-EU countries: Turkey (27.3 years) and Iceland (44.9 years).

Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark with the longest working life

In the European Union, the national expected average duration of working life varies across countries (Map 1). Sweden (42.0 years), the Netherlands (41.0) and Denmark (40.0) had the longest expected duration of working life in 2020. These were the only three EU Member States where the expected number of working years was 40 or above. They were followed by Estonia (39.2), Germany (39.1) and Finland (38.8). A geographical pattern seems to appear as regards the expected duration of working life, with Northern and Baltic countries, as well as the central axis with Germany and Austria, having the longest duration of working life. Portugal and Cyprus also showed an average above 37 years in 2020. However, Italy (31.2 years), Croatia and Greece (both 32.8 years) had the shortest expected working lives.

Map 1: Estimated duration of working life in years for a person who is 15 years old in 2020, by country
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_dwl_a)

Men expected to work longer than women

In 2020, the duration of working life was longer for men than for women in all countries, with the exception of Lithuania (Figure 1) where women were expected to work longer than men (0.4 years). Among the EU Member States, Italy had the largest gender gap at 9.3 years, followed by Malta at 8.9 years. This gap was, however, larger in the two candidate countries North Macedonia (10.6 years) and Turkey (19.9 years).

Figure 1: Expected duration of working life in years for a person who is 15 years old in 2020, by country and sex.
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_dwl_a)

Italy is the EU Member State with the shortest working life for women (26.4 years) and Sweden the one with the longest (40.6 years). If non-EU countries are included, women in Turkey are expected to work the shortest (17.1 years) and women in Iceland the longest (42.7 years). For men, the shortest working lives are recorded in Croatia (35.1 years), Belgium and Bulgaria (both with 35.2), Luxembourg (35.5 years) and Italy (35.7 years) while the longest working lives were reported (among the EU Member States) in the Netherlands and Sweden (43.1 and 43.2 years respectively); the longest overall for men is recorded in Iceland (47.0 years).

Overall, there is no obvious relation between the length of the expected working lives and the size of the gender gap. Gender gaps of about 4 years exist in countries with the longest expected working lives, such as the Netherlands or Austria. However, Italy, North Macedonia and Turkey have the shortest expected working lives for the total population and the largest gender gaps: 9.3, 10.6 and 19.9 years respectively.

Evolution of the duration of working life over time: 2000-2020

Downward trend for the gender gap

The EU gender gap has decreased slowly but steadily since the year 2000 (Figure 2). The gap was 7.1 years in 2000 and fell to 4.8 years in 2020. The expected working life for women has increased by 4.5 years while for men it has increased by 2.2 years over this period.

Figure 2: Expected duration of working life in time in years for a person who is 15 years old, 2000-2020, EU
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_dwl_a)

Different patterns among countries

Changes in the expected duration of working life over the period 2000-2020 vary widely among EU countries (Figure 3). The largest increases in the expected duration over time are recorded in Malta (+8.0 years, mainly due to the increase among women as indicated below), Hungary (+6.9 years) and Estonia (+5.8 years), while the smallest increases can be found in Denmark (+1.7 years) and Greece (+1.4). Romania is the only country showing a decrease in the expected duration of working life, with 36.0 years in 2000 and 34.0 years in 2020, a decrease of 2.0 years.

Looking at the changes over the same period for the expected duration of working life by country and by sex, more variations can be found. For example, women in Malta saw the expected number of working years increase by 14.7 years between 2000 and 2020, while Romanian women saw it decrease by 3.8 years. In Spain, the expected duration of working life rose by 8.4 years for women but fell by 0.3 years for men. Luxembourg also had a large difference, as the increase in the expected working life between 2000 and 2020 is much more for women than for men (+8.8 years compared with +1.2 years).

Figure 3: Expected duration of working life in years for a person who is 15 years old, development over time from 2000 to 2020, EU
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_dwl_a)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

The duration of working life is calculated using the participation rates (also called "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 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. 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.

Coverage: The results from the survey currently cover European Union Member States, 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.

Country note: In Germany, since the first quarter of 2020, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) has been integrated into the newly designed German microcensus as a subsample. Unfortunately, for the LFS, technical issues and the COVID-19 crisis has had a large impact on the data collection processes, resulting in low response rates and a biased sample. Changes in the survey methodology also led to a break in the data series. The published German data are provisional and may be revised in the future. For more information, see here.

European aggregates: EU refers to the sum of the 27 EU Member States. Cases, where data are unavailable for a country, are indicated.

Definitions: The concepts and definitions used in the survey follow the guidelines of the International Labour Organization (ILO). In particular, employed people comprise: (a) persons who during the reference week worked for at least one hour for pay or profit or family gain; (b) persons who were not at work during the reference week but had a job or business from which they were temporarily absent.

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.

Different articles on detailed technical and methodological information are available through: EU labour force survey.


The duration of working life indicator was developed at the request of the Employment Committee indicators group under the EU 2020 strategy. It uses life expectancy tables and participation rates (also called "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 computed over all adults in the country, the indicator is heavily influenced by the number of persons outside the labour force 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 in the labour force (being employed or unemployed) in each year of their life,
  • and the life expectancy.

Most of the duration of working life can be explained by the participation rate. An illustration for the total population, comparing the expected duration working life with the participation rate in each country, is presented in figure 4.

Figure 4: Linear correlation between activity rate and expected duration of working life, 2020 (rate and years)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_dwl_a) and (lfsa_argan)

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Duration of working life - annual data (lfsi_dwl_a)