EU Labour Force Survey - new methodology from 2021 onwards


This article describes the methodology of the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) from the year 2021 onwards. It gives information on the labour force status and on the main indicators derived from it. It also provides specific information on the other concepts and definitions the labour force status is grounded on, as well as the references to the variables available in the EU-LFS datasets. Furthermore, it presents the main changes occurred with the entry into force of Regulation (EU) 2019/1700, also called the Integrated European Social Statistics Framework Regulation (IESS FR) and its Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/2240 for the labour force domain.

This article is part of a set of online articles on the EU-LFS.

Full article

Labour force status

Definition of the labour force status

The labour force status is the cornerstone concept for labour market statistics. Accordingly, people are classified in three main categories as employed, unemployed or outside the labour force. The additional aggregated category labour force includes all employed and unemployed persons.

The classification of each person in one category is based on the answers they gave during the interview referring to a specific calendar week, called the reference week. This week was assigned to the person during the sampling procedure, in order to ensure an even distribution of the sample over all weeks of the year.

Definitions used in the EU-LFS for the employed and unemployed persons as well as for people outside the labour force follow the Resolution of the 13th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS), convened in 1982 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and their amendments as decided in the following ICLS occurrences (hereafter referred as the ‘ILO guidelines’). To ensure comparability within the EU, while remaining fully compatible with the ILO guidelines, the Regulation (EU) 2019/1700, also called the Integrated European Social Statistics Framework Regulation (IESS FR) and its Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/2240 for the labour force domain provide a precise implementing definition for each labour force status.

Categories of the labour force status

Employed persons (i.e. people in employment):

They comprise persons aged 15 to 89 (in completed years at the end of the reference week) who, during the reference week, were in one of the following categories:

  • (a) persons who during the reference week worked for at least 1 hour for pay or profit, including contributing family workers;
  • (b) persons with a job or business who were temporarily not at work during the reference week but had an attachment to their job, where the following groups have a job attachment:
  • persons not at work due to holidays, working time arrangements, sick leave, maternity or paternity leave;
  • persons in job-related training;
  • persons on parental leave, either receiving and/or being entitled to job-related income or benefits, or whose parental leave is expected to be 3 months or less;
  • seasonal workers during the off-season, where they continue to regularly perform tasks and duties for the job or business, excluding fulfilment of legal or administrative obligations;
  • persons temporarily not at work for other reasons where the expected duration of the absence is 3 months or less;
  • (c) persons that produce agricultural goods whose main part is intended for sale or barter.

Persons in own-use production work, voluntary workers, unpaid trainees and individuals involved in other forms of work are not included in employment on the basis of those activities.

Contributing family workers, persons in own-use production work, voluntary workers, unpaid trainees and individuals involved in other forms of work are defined in the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilisation, adopted on 11 October 2013.

Unemployed persons (i.e. people in unemployment):

They comprise persons aged 15 to 74 (in completed years at the end of the reference week) who were:

  • (a) not employed during the reference week according to the definition of employment described above; and
  • (b) currently available for work, i.e. were available for paid employment or self-employment before the end of the 2 weeks following the reference week; and
  • (c) actively seeking work, i.e. had either carried out activities in the four-week period ending with the reference week to seek paid employment or self-employment or found a job to start within a period of at most 3 months from the end of the reference week.

For the purpose of identifying active job search, such activities are:

  • studying job advertisements;
  • placing or answering job advertisements;
  • placing or updating CVs online;
  • contacting employers directly;
  • asking friends, relatives or acquaintances;
  • contacting a public employment service;
  • contacting a private employment agency;
  • taking a test, interview or examination as part of a recruitment process; and
  • making preparations to set up a business.

Seasonal workers not at work during the reference week (off-season) but who expect to return to their seasonal job are to be considered as having ‘found a job’.

People in the labour force:

They comprise persons who were either employed or unemployed during the reference week. This aggregate includes all persons offering their work capacity on the labour market: the supply side of the market.

People outside the labour force:

They comprise persons who were in one of the following categories:

  • (a) aged below 15 (in completed years at the end of the reference week);
  • (b) aged above 89 (in completed years at the end of the reference week); or
  • (c) aged 15 to 89 (in completed years at the end of the reference week) and neither employed nor unemployed during the reference week according to the definitions of employment and unemployment described above.


Derivation of the labour force status

Given the complexity of the definitions of employment and unemployment (described here above), and in order to achieve a measurement as objective as possible, the EU-LFS respondents are not directly asked if they are employed, unemployed or outside the labour force. Instead, they are asked about their labour market behaviour in the reference week, and their labour status is derived according to the following derivation chart (see Figure 1).

For the detailed flowchart of each submodule, see Annex II of the Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/2240 for the labour force domain.

Figure 1: Labour force status derivation chart

Other concepts and definitions

This section gives an overview of other important concepts and definitions beside the labour force status used in the EU-LFS. The reference documents for the definitions of these variables are the EU-LFS user guide and the EU-LFS explanatory notes. They contain detailed information on the definition of each variable.

Socio-demographic and geographic characteristics

  • Citizenship: Citizenship is interpreted as nationality. Citizenship is defined according to the national legislation of each country. For the reference definition, please consult the variable CITIZENSHIP in EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide.
  • Country of birth: For the purpose of this variable, current national boundaries should be considered rather than the boundaries at the time of the respondent's birth. For the reference definition, please consult the variable COUNTRYB in EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide.
  • Recent immigrants: Foreign born persons or persons with a citizenship different to the country of residence who have been resident five years or less in the reporting country are considered as recent immigrants. This subpopulation can be studied using the variable YEARESID, whose detailed description can be found in EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide.
  • Second generation of immigrants: Native-born population with at least one foreign-born parent, being defined as the second generation of immigrants, can be studied with the help of the variables COBFATH and COBMOTH, which are detailed in EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide.
  • Degree of urbanisation: This concept aims to classify the place of residence in 3 types of area: cities (densely populated areas), towns and suburbs (intermediate density areas) and rural areas (thinly populated areas). For reference, please consult the variable DEGURBA in EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide.

Educational attainment and participation in education and training

  • Educational attainment level of an individual is the highest ISCED (International standard classification of education) level successfully completed, the successful completion of an education programme being validated by a recognised qualification, i.e. a qualification officially recognised by the relevant national education authorities or recognised as equivalent to another qualification of formal education. In countries where education programmes, in particular those belonging to ISCED levels 1 and 2, do not lead to a qualification, the criterion of full attendance of the programme and normally gaining access to a higher level of education may have to be used instead. When determining the highest level, both general and vocational education should be taken into consideration. For more detailed information, see the variables HATLEVEL, HATFIELD, HATYEAR in EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide.
  • Participation in education and training covers participation in formal and non-formal education and training. Until 2020, the only reference period for the participation in education and training was the four weeks prior to the interview (information collected every quarter). However, from 2021 onwards, information on the participation in education and training in the last 12 months is also collected every two years in even years (2022, 2024, etc.). For more details, see the description of the variables EDUCFED4, EDUCLEV4, EDUCNFE4, EDUCFED12, EDUCLEV12 and EDUCNFE12 in EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide as well as the classifications ISCED and CLA.

Sector of activity and professional status

  • Economic activity: This is the economic activity of the establishment where the work is performed. For reference, please consult the classification NACE.
  • Professional status: It refers to the classification of employed persons into employees, self-employed with employees (employers), self-employed without employees (own-account workers) and unpaid family workers. For the reference definitions, please look at the variable STAPRO in EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide as well as the classification ICSE.
  • Employees with fixed-term contracts: The concept of fixed-term contract is only applicable to employees, not to self-employed. In most of the EU Member States, a majority of jobs are based on written labour contracts. In some countries, however, contracts of this type are settled only in specific cases, e.g. for public-sector jobs, apprentices or other trainees within an enterprise. Given these institutional discrepancies, the concepts of ‘temporary employment’ and ‘work contract of limited duration’ (or ‘permanent employment’ and ‘work contract of unlimited duration’) describe situations which, in different institutional contexts, may be considered similar. For the reference definitions, please consult the variable TEMP EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide as well as the classification ICSE.
  • Total duration of temporary job or work contract of limited duration: This refers to the total of the time already elapsed plus the time remaining until the end of the contract. For the reference definitions, please consult the variable TEMPDUR in EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide.

Working time

The EU-LFS collects data on the "number of hours usually worked per week" and "number of hours actually worked during the reference week".

  • Usual working hours: The number of hours usually worked per week comprises all hours including extra hours, either paid or unpaid, which the person normally works, but excludes the travelling time between home and workplace and the time taken for the main meal break (usually at lunchtime). The number of hours per week usually worked is collected for both the main and second job. For the reference definitions, please see the variables HWUSUAL and HWUSU2J in EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide.
  • Actual working hours: The number of hours actually worked during the reference week covers all hours including extra hours regardless of whether they were paid or not. The number of hours actually worked during the reference week is collected for both the main and second job. The measurement of the actual working hours in the main job has been harmonised across countries from the 2021 EU-LFS onwards with a common model questionnaire. For more details, please see the variables HWACTUAL, HWACTU2J, ABSHOLID, ABSILLIN, ABSOTHER or EXTRAHRS in EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide.
  • Atypical working time: The atypical work distinguishes between evening or night work, Saturday or Sunday working and shift work.
  • Evening and night work: Since the definitions of evening and night differ widely, it is not easy to establish a strictly uniform basis for all Member States. In general, however, ‘evening work’ is considered to be work done after usual working hours but before the usual hours of sleep in the Member State concerned. It implies the opportunity to sleep at normal times. ‘Night work’ is generally regarded as work done during usual sleeping hours and implies abnormal sleeping times.
  • Saturday and Sunday working: This concept is interpreted strictly on the basis of formal agreements concluded with the employer.
  • Shift-work: The question of shift work applies only to employees. Shift work is a regular work schedule during which an enterprise is operational or provides services beyond the normal working hours from 8 am to 6 pm on weekdays (evening closing hours may be later in the case of a longer break at noon in some Member States).
For the reference definitions, please consult the EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide for the variables SHIFTWK, EVENWK, NIGHTWK, SATWK and SUNWK.
  • Full-time/part-time: This variable refers to the main job. The distinction between full-time and part-time work is generally based on a spontaneous response by the respondent. The main exceptions are the Netherlands and Iceland where a 35-hour threshold is applied, Sweden where a threshold is applied to the self-employed, and Norway where persons working between 32 and 36 hours are asked whether this is a full- or part-time position. For more details, please consult the EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide for the variable FTPT.
  • Involuntary part-time employment: This is when respondents report that they work part-time because they are unable to find full-time work. For the reference definitions, please consult the EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide for the variable FTPTREAS.

Unemployment

  • Long-term unemployment: It consists of unemployed persons aged 15-74 who have been looking for a job for one year or more.

Health

  • Limitation in activities: It measures the respondents self-assessment of whether they are limited (in “activities people usually do”) by any on-going physical, mental or emotional health problem, including disease or impairment, and old age. Consequences of injuries/accidents, congenital conditions, etc. are all included. Only the limitations directly caused by or related to one or more health problems are considered. For more details, please see the EU-LFS explanatory notes and EU-LFS user guide for the variable GALI.

Main indicators being expressed as a rate

Absolute values for the employed and unemployed population as well as for people inside and outside the labour force (see definitions presented above) are published as part of the main outputs of the EU-LFS. Based on these absolute values, some important percentage indicators are calculated and published. They also represent an important output of the EU-LFS. Main percentage indicators are:

  • the employment rate which is the number of employed persons as a percentage of the total population ;
  • the unemployment rate which is the number of unemployed persons as a percentage of the labour force (sum of employed and unemployed people) ;
  • the participation rate which is the number of persons in the labour force as a percentage of the total population. This indicator was formerly called the activity rate.

Main changes introduced in 2021

Introduction

Regulation (EU) 2019/1700, which is in force from 1 January 2021 onwards, provides for a framework that applies to several data collections in the field of social statistics. The aim is to increase the data quality of social statistics, and its comparability across EU Member States, but also its comparability across domains in social statistics, e.g. labour force versus income and living conditions domains. Better harmonisation across domains is namely reached through the inclusion of standardised core and key social variables in the different data collections (with, for example, the main activity status, educational attainment level, self-perceived general health, degree of urbanisation, etc.).

List of variables

With regards to the EU-LFS, main changes in the list of variables are the following:

  • The periodicity of some variables (quarterly versus annual or biennial) has been changed;
  • Variables related to migration have been added: country of birth of father and mother (every quarter), reason for migration (every two years);
  • Variables on the health status and limitation in activities have been introduced (every two years);
  • Participation in formal and non-formal education and training in the last 12 months is collected every two years in addition to the quarterly information on participation in the four weeks prior to the interview;
  • A yearly variable on work experience at the workplace as part of the education degree curriculum has been added;
  • Variables on economically dependent self-employment have also been included (annual);
  • By contrast, some variables have been dropped due to their lower relevance for users (WSTAT1Y, STAPRO1Y, NACE1Y2D, COUNTR1Y, REGION1Y, MARSTAT, LOOKREAS, SEEKTYPE, PRESEEK, COURLEN, COURPURP, COURFILD, COURWORH, HATVOC, HHINST).

Measurement

Major changes also concern the measurement of the labour force status, and its input harmonisation through the inclusion of flowcharts in the Commission Implementing Regulation EU 2019/2240. The operationalisation of the concepts of employment, unemployment and outside the labour force underwent the following changes:

  • the reference population changed from people aged 15 years and over to people aged 15-89;
  • the criteria for classifying the absences from work have been harmonised, especially for people on parental leave (if they are either receiving job-related income or benefits, or if their leave is expected to last 3 months or less, they are counted as employed) and seasonal workers (outside the season, they are classified as employed if they still regularly perform tasks and duties for the job or business during the off-season), consequently people with a job or business temporarily not at work during the reference week but with strong attachment to their job are still considered as employed;
  • people engaged in agricultural and fishing activities exclusively for self-consumption are no longer classified as employed;
  • only the active search methods are still taken into account for not employed people to be considered as looking for a job (passive job search methods have been dropped).

Important changes have also been brought in other variables to reach a more uniform measurement among the EU Member States and thus to achieve more comparable results at European level:

  • for the measurement of the actual working hours (quarterly);
  • for the measurement of the income from work (annual).

Methodology

Finally, more technical and methodological changes have been introduced:

  • sample rotation scheme: there should be a minimum sample overlap of 20 % between the same quarters in consecutive years and of 50 % between consecutive quarters without taking into account attrition;
  • subsampling requirements: specific requirements have been set with regard to subsamples for structural variables and household data;
  • precision requirements have been included in the Regulation for the three following estimates:
  • the estimate of quarterly ratio unemployment-to-population for the age group 15-74 at national level;
  • the estimate of quarterly ratio employment-to-population for the age group 15-74 at national level;.
  • the estimate of quarterly ratio unemployment-to-population for the age group 15-74 in each NUTS II region;
  • editing and imputation criteria: administrative or register data, results from previous interviews, and results from interviews of another person shall not be used to replace or impute information on the variables related to the definition of the labour status;
  • weighting requirements: the reference population used for weighting the sample information, the weighting criteria at individual and household levels, and the weighting requirements for quarterly, annual, biennial, eight-yearly and ad hoc subjects variables are stated in the Regulation;
  • change in the definition of population and household: the overall target population concerns persons usually residing in private households in the territory of the Member State but it involves different age groups according to the information or variables that it concerns;
  • uniform distribution of the sample over the weeks: in each reference quarter the full quarterly sample shall be uniformly distributed between all the reference weeks of the quarter;
  • reference periods (week, months, quarters and years): weeks, months and quarters should be properly distributed and allocated (e.g the reference weeks are allocated to the reference quarters so that a week belongs to the quarter);
  • use of multiple data sources and innovative data collection methods is encouraged in order to improve data quality and efficiency;
  • timeliness for data transmission: the Member States shall transmit during the first three years of implementation of the Regulation their quarterly data within ten weeks of the end of the reference period (versus twelve weeks before) and their other data by 31 March of the following year. From the fourth year of implementation, they shall transmit their quarterly data within eight weeks of the end of the reference period and their other data by 15 March of the following year, except data concerning ad‐hoc subjects by 31 March of the following year.

More information

For references and details, please consult the Regulation (EU) 2019/1700 and the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/2240.

Additional information by country can be found in the following national publications:

  • Belgium:
  • Bulgaria:
  • Czechia:
  • Denmark:
  • Estonia:
  • Ireland:
  • Greece:
  • Spain:
  • France:
  • Croatia:
  • Italy:
  • Cyprus:
  • Latvia:
  • Lithuania:
  • Hungary:
  • The Netherlands:
  • Austria:
  • Poland:
  • Portugal:
  • Romania:
  • Slovenia:
  • Finland:
  • Sweden
  • Iceland:
  • Norway:
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