Statistics Explained

EU labour force survey – data and publication

This article explains Eurostat's offer of European labour force survey (EU-LFS) statistical data. It gives an overview of the availability of the results for users, describes the different dissemination channels, and explains the dissemination policy by presenting the publishing guidelines as well as information on the comparability of the EU-LFS results.

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

Full article

Structure of EU-LFS dissemination

Eurostat disseminates EU-LFS data through four main channels:

1. Tables in the online database

Most, but not all, of Eurostat's EU-LFS data offer consists of tables disseminated in Eurostat's online database in the theme ' Employment and unemployment (Labour Force Survey)' according to the following categories:

  • LFS main indicators (a set of specific EU-LFS results which are quarterly updated)
  • LFS detailed quarterly and annual survey results
  • LFS specific topics
  • LFS ad-hoc modules

To access the results, please consult: EU-LFS database In addition, some EU-LFS data are also released under the themes Education and training and Regional statistics

2. Statistical publications

3. Anonymised datasets for researchers

4. Tailor-made extractions for tables not available in the online database

Eurobase tables and datasets

Main indicators

The main indicators is a collection of the most important EU LFS results. The aim of the main indicators is to provide users with key statistics on the labour market. Special work is done to ensure that the main indicators can be used as time series. In general, the adjusted series are the result of corrections of main breaks in series, estimation of missing values and reconciliations of the EU-LFS data with other sources, mainly National Accounts and national statistics on monthly unemployment. For the period previous to 2005, when the EU-LFS was conducted annually instead of quarterly in some countries, published data are the result of an interpolation of available annual data into quarterly data.

EU-LFS main indicators are estimated and updated four times a year. Whenever some indicator is published both in EU-LFS main indicators and in detailed survey results (see EU-LFS data), for instance the unemployment rates, the reference figure is published under main indicators.
All main indicators are predefined and users can access the information in the form of tables, graphs and maps.

Release calendar: The production of the main indicators (quarterly results) is accompanied by an EU-LFS release calendar which provides transparency for users on the availability of the data and favours a timeliness data release of the results.

EU-LFS detailed data

The EU-LFS database contains detailed statistical information for users.

1. Detailed quarterly and annual EU-LFS results

The aim of the quarterly and annual EU-LFS results is to provide users with more in-depth statistics on the labour market, with breakdowns by explanatory variables not available in the LFS main indicators. The results are fully based on the EU-LFS and no adjustments or corrections are applied. This could lead to punctual data gaps or breaks in time series.

From 2005 onwards, with few exceptions, the annual results present annual averages of quarterly data. Up until 2005, the annual results are mostly based on 'spring data – second quarter', due to the limited availability of quarterly data.
The detailed results contain information on the following subjects: total population, activity and activity rates, employment, employment rates, self-employed, employees, temporary employment, full-time and part-time employment, population in employment having a second job, working time, total unemployment and inactivity. The user can access and extract statistics according to specific dimensions (variables) like sex, age, highest level of education, nationality or economic activity.

The detailed quarterly and annual EU-LFS results are updated once a week, as new and revised country data become available and are validated.

2. LFS specific topics

Specific topics currently covered are EU-LFS statistics for households and EU-LFS data by region. Only annual data are available. Updates are usually less frequent than for the quarterly and annual domains.

3. LFS ad-hoc modules

Since 1999, the EU-LFS is supplemented every year with so called EU-LFS ad-hoc modules. There is a different ad-hoc module every year. The aim of the ad-hoc module is to provide users with statistics on a specific topic concerning the labour market by adding each year a set of variables to supplement the core EU-LFS.

The following ad-hoc modules have been conducted:

  • 1999 Accidents at work and occupational diseases
  • 2000 Transition from school to working life
  • 2001 Length and patterns of working time
  • 2002 Employment of disabled people
  • 2003 Lifelong learning
  • 2004 Work organisation and working time arrangements
  • 2005 Reconciliation between work and family life
  • 2006 Transition from work into retirement
  • 2007 Work related accidents, health problems and hazardous exposure
  • 2008 Labour market situation of migrants
  • 2009 Entry of young people into the labour market
  • 2010 Reconciliation between work and family life
  • 2011 Employment of disabled people
  • 2012 Transition from work to retirement
  • 2013 Accidents at work and work-related health problems
  • 2014 Labour market situation of migrants and their immediate descendants
  • 2016 Young people on the labour market
  • 2017 Self-employment
  • 2018 Reconciliation between work and family life
  • 2019 Work organisation and working time arrangements

For full information on the output of each module, as well as extensive documentation, please consult EU-LFS modules.

Statistical publications

The EU-LFS results are also disseminated in print or electronic publications concerning statistics on the labour market or social statistics. The scope of these publications is limited because the traditional paper publications were discontinued after 2002.

Shorter electronic publications on main EU-LFS results for a variety of topics as well as for specific analyses are presented in Eurostat's Statistics in Focus series. The results are also published in pocketbooks on labour market statistics or social statistics as well as in Eurostat's Yearbook. To access the publication, please consult: Publications (Eurostat Labour market website).

Other articles are published in the official Eurostat webpage Statistics Explained under the topic "Labour market".

The EU-LFS also disseminates publications on the methodology of the survey. For more information please consult: Quality reporting.

Europe 2020 and policy making indicators

Europe 2020 is a strategy for jobs and smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Two of the five Europe 2020 headline targets are monitored with LFS indicators (75 % target for employment rate 20-64; share of early school leavers under 10 %; at least 40 % of 30-34 years to have completed tertiary education). EU and national targets are available in the data tables.

The European Commission (EC) bases several other EU policy indicators on the EU-LFS results: Employment and social policy indicators, European and national indicators / Principal European Economic Indicators, Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure (MIPS), Sustainable development indicators. For more information and a complete list of indicators, please consult EU policy indicators.

Additionally, the EU-LFS results are used in a series of analyses published by the European Commission. The EU-LFS is one of the main sources used in the Annual Employment Report. This publication provides analytical and statistical background to the European Employment Strategy.

A number of indicators complied using the EU-LFS results are used to assess Member States' progress in implementing the Employment Guidelines (Europe 2020 Joint Assessment Framework) and underpin the analysis of the National Action Plans (NAPs) and in the annual Joint Employment Report. The Employment Committee approves the list of indicators on an annual basis. For more information, please consult EC Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion.

Publication guidelines and thresholds

The EU-LFS, like all surveys, is based upon a sample of the population. The results are therefore subject to the usual types of errors associated with sampling techniques. Eurostat implements basic guidelines intended to avoid publication of results which are statistically unreliable or which risk allowing identification of individual respondents.

Eurostat flags EU-LFS estimates below reliability limits called 'a' and 'b'. Those reliability limits depend on the sample size and design in the individual Member States and refer to weighted data. Figures flagged 'a' should not be published; by convention, a dot or full stop is used instead. Figures flagged 'b', whenever applicable, can be published with a warning concerning their limited reliability. By convention, they are published in brackets. This applies to quarterly data, annual averages of quarterly data, yearly data and ad hoc module results.

In the database, results below the 'a' limit are blanked using a colon (:) and results below the 'b' limit and above the 'a' limit are published as unreliable by putting a 'u' in brackets behind the results (u).

In the EU-LFS extractions, which are tailor-made tables with weighted results, results below the 'a' limit are flagged 'x' and are deleted from the extraction. In fact, the entry itself is still visible and a blank cell indicates that a value below reliability limits has been removed. Results between the 'b' limit and the 'a' limit are visible and flagged 'u' (for low reliability).

It is important to note that data for Spain and Sweden are subject to the application of small random perturbations in the EU-LFS extractions. This can lead to loss of data consistency for these two countries, both as regards additivity for (sub-)totals and comparability with results published elsewhere (e.g. by Eurostat or NSIs).

Content of the EU-LFS data extractions is also subject to the following limitations: 1) no results by individual nationality or country of birth outside Europe are provided (only results by groups of non-European countries are transmitted); 2) no results by single-year age bands are provided; 3) the percentage of cells flagged "x" in the table should not exceed 70%. The rate of 70% has been set up to avoid EU-LFS data extractions with contents close to micro-data file (to avoid crossing too many variables, or crossing several variables at a too detailed level). Request for EU-LFS data extraction is not accepted when it results in a table with more than 70% of cells flagged "x".

In addition to reliability limits for individual countries, limits for groups of countries are also included in the overview tables (see below). Values for such groups of countries are calculated as the maximum of the values of the countries belonging to the group. In most cases, data released by Eurostat will conform to these rules. If specific directions listed in Regulation (EU) No 557/2013 are respected, figures may be provided to researchers without the modifications described above. This is done to enable them to develop their own aggregated tables during the course of their analysis. When these aggregations have been finalised, the guidelines outlined above should again be observed. Compliance with this principle is considered as a condition of the release of data in this form.

Overview of the limits for the specific data:

From 2006 onwards, the EU-LFS can provide three types of core results according to the sample used: quarterly data, annual averages of quarterly data or yearly data. The latter corresponds to the best sample available for all variables for a given country and year. It corresponds either to one single quarter (generally quarter 2) for past years, the average of quarterly data or to a sub-sample distributed along the year. For details on this structure see "EU-LFS user guide". Moreover, the yearly changing ad-hoc modules require a further set of limits.

The complete list of reliability limits from 1983 is available as an Excel file.

Comparability over time and across countries

Note: This section applies only to LFS detailed survey results series. The LFS adjusted series (including LFS main indicators) include corrections for breaks.

Since 1983, improved comparability between results of successive surveys has been achieved, mainly due to increased harmonisation, greater stability of content and higher frequency of surveys. However, the following factors may somewhat detract from perfect comparability:

  • population figures used for population adjustment are revised at certain intervals on the basis of new population censuses;
  • reference periods may not have remained the same for a given country due to the transition to a quarterly continuous survey;
  • countries may modify their sample designs;
  • in order to improve the quality of results, countries may change the content or order of their questionnaire.

Transition to a quarterly continuous survey

From 1983 to 1997, the EU Labour Force Survey was conducted only in spring (quarter 1 or 2 depending on the country). Data for the remaining quarters started to become progressively available from 1998 onwards. Since 1998, the transition to a quarterly continuous survey (with reference weeks spread uniformly throughout the year) has been gradually conducted by Member States. Some countries first introduced a continuous annual survey (meaning the reference weeks were uniformly distributed throughout the spring quarter) and then switched to a quarterly collection, whereas others moved directly to a quarterly continuous survey.

Regulation (EC) No 1991/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council introduced a deadline for the transition period given to Member States to introduce a continuous quarterly survey. Table 1 shows the transition phase to the continuous survey for each country. The main breaks due to this transition are highlighted in bold.

Table 1: Breaks due to the transition to a quarterly continuous survey

Country Spring
Continuous survey from Remarks
BE 1983 1999 1999 -
BG - 2000 (2003) 2000-2002: One week per quarter

2003+: Uniformly spread over the first 12 weeks of each quarter

CZ - 1998 1997 1997: Seasonal quarters 2 and 4
DK 1983 1999 1994 1992-1993: More than one week spread unequally over 1st and 2nd quarter
DE 1983 2005 2005 1983-2004: One week per quarter

2005+: Quarterly continuous survey

EE 1997 2000 2000 1997-1999: All weeks in 2nd quarter, not uniformly spread
IE 1983 1999q2 1998 1992-1997: More than one week, but not uniformly spread in one quarter

1998-2006: Seasonal quarters

EL 1983 1998 1996 1992-1995: All weeks in 2nd quarter, not uniformly spread
ES 1986 1996 1999 1996-1998: Evenly spread with the exception of 4 weeks in August (not surveyed due to interviewers' holidays)
FR 1983 2003 2003 1992-2002: More than one week, but not uniformly spread in one quarter
HR 2002 2007 2007 2002-2006: Half-year results, one reference week per month, uniformly spread over the months
IT 1983 1997q2 2004 1983-2003: One week per quarter
CY 1999 2004q2 1999 -
LV 1998 2002 2002 1998-2001: All weeks in 2nd and 4th quarter, not uniformly spread (semi-annual results)
LT 1998 2002 2002q3 1998-2001: One week in 2nd and 4th quarter each (semi-annual results)

2002q1-q2: One week per quarter

LU 1983 2007 (2003) 1983-2002: One week per quarter

2003-2006: All weeks of the year, but not uniformly spread and no quarterly results

HU 1996 1999 2003 1999-2002: One week per month

2003-2005: 3 weeks per month, not uniformly spread
2006+: All weeks surveyed, nearly uniformly spread

MT 2000 2002 2004 -
NL 1987 2000 2000 1992-1999: 1st to 22nd/23rd week surveyed, not uniformly spread
AT 1995 1999 2004 1995-2003: More than one week at the end of the quarter, not uniformly spread
PL 1997 2000 2000 -
PT 1986 1996q2 1998 1996-1997: More than one week per quarter, not uniformly spread
RO 1997 1999 (1998) 1998-2004: Most or all weeks of the quarter, not evenly spread

2005: Uniformly spread over 12 weeks each quarter
2006+: Uniformly spread over all weeks of each quarter

SI 1996 1999 (2002) 1996-2001: One week per quarter

2002-2005: All or most weeks surveyed, not uniformly spread
2006+: All weeks surveyed, nearly uniformly spread

SK - 1998 1998 1998-1999: Seasonal quarters
FI 1995 1998 2000 1995-1999: One week per month

2000+: Monthly survey. Uniformly spread over the weeks of the month, months of each quarter have 4-4-5 weeks

SE 1995 2001 1999 1995-1998: Uniformly spread over 4 weeks of one month
UK 1983 1999q2 1992 1992-2006: Seasonal quarters
IS 1995 2003 2003 1995-2002: One week per quarter
NO 1995 2000 1996 -
CH 1996 2010 2010 1995+: All or most weeks surveyed, not uniformly spread

2010+: Quarterly continuous survey

ME - 2010 2010 -
MK - 2006 2006 -
RS 2010 2014 2015 2010 - 2013: One week in 2nd and 4th quarter each (semi-annual results)

2014: One week per quarter
2015+: Quarterly continuous survey

TR - 2006 2014 2006 - 2013: Only one week per month covered

2014+: Quarterly continuous survey

Breaks due to census revisions

Back data revisions of population figures used for population adjustment (triggered by Census 2001 and Census 2011 results) led to a break in series in some countries.

Table 2: Breaks due to census revisions

Country Census 2001 Census 2011 Country Census 2001 Census 2011 Country Census 2001 Census 2011
BE - - CY - 2009 SK - 2011
BG 2001 2010 LV - - FI - -
CZ - 2011 LT - - SE - -
DK - - LU - - UK 1999 -
DE - 2010 HU 2001 - IS - -
EE - 2000 MT - 2005 NO - -
IE - 2007 NL - - CH - -
EL 1998 2001 AT - - ME - -
ES - - PL - 2010 MK - -
FR - - PT - 1998 RS - -
HR - - RO 2003 2010 TR - -
IT - 2004 SI - -

Please note that back data revisions due to Census 2011 results are not finalised yet and will lead to regular updates of this table.

Countries using a sub-sample for the collection of structural variables

Under Regulation (EC) No 2257/2003 a set of specific variables, referred to as structural variables, need to be surveyed only as annual averages with reference to 52 weeks rather than as quarterly averages. Currently twelve countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Spain, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland, the United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland) use a sub-sample to survey all or some of the structural variables, taking advantage of this possibility offered by Regulation (EC) No 0430/2005. In addition, Germany used a sub-sample from 2006 to 2011. For structural variables no quarterly results exists, and their yearly results from 2006 onwards are in general either based on the average of 4 quarters (for countries not using a subsample) or the respective yearly sub-sample for countries using that approach.

Table 3: Countries using a sub-sample for the collection of structural variables

Since/For Country
2006 ES, FR, NL, NO
2006-2011 DE
2007 FI
2008 BG, UK
2010 CH
2011 CZ
2015 LU
2017 BE, LV

Breaks due to revised classifications or regulations

The EU-LFS uses international classifications for coding certain variables. These classifications are subject to regular revisions. The implementation of such revised classifications as well as revisions of specific LFS regulations may also lead to breaks in series.

Table 4: General breaks due to revised classifications/regulations

Year Revisions
1992 Introduction of the ISCO-88 (COM) classification
1998 Introduction of the ISCED 1997 classification
2003 Variables relating to participation in education and to highest completed education were completely revised by
Regulation (EC) No 2104/2002. As a result the comparability with previous years, especially with regard to participation in education (derived variable EDUC4WN) is limited. Most countries introduced the respective changes in 2003, 2004 or 2005. For the exact change date, please review the country list (below).
2006 Variable "EDUCSTAT": category “student on holidays” separated from “has not been a student or apprentice” (exceptions of implementation dates: SE 2006 Q2, SI 2006 Q2, SK 2006 Q2, DK 2007 Q1 MK 2007 Q1, PL 2007 Q2, DE 2008 Q1, EE 2009 Q1, IS 2009 Q2, FR 2013 Q1, no changes: CH,FI)
2008 Introduction of the NACE Rev. 2 classification
2011 Introduction of the ISCO-08 classification
2012 Introduction of the new DEGURBA classification
2014 Introduction of the ISCED 2011 classification
2016 Introduction of the ISCED-F 2013 classification

Other country specific breaks

In order to improve the quality of results, countries modified for instance the survey or sample design, the weighting scheme, or the content of the questionnaire. For detailed information on such country specific breaks, please consult: country specific breaks (Excel file).

For an overview of all data revisions received by Eurostat since 2005, please consult LFS-data-revisions.

Impact of the general structure of Eurostat's EU-LFS database on breaks in series

In order to facilitate cross-country and time comparisons at EU level as much as possible, Eurostat had to take some decisions on how to organise the available EU-LFS country data. In consequence, the structure of the database has to be taken into account as well. One major change in that respect is the change of the reference sample for yearly files from one reference quarter in spring until 2004 to an annual sample covering all quarters and weeks of the year from 2005 on. Further information on the general structure of the EU-LFS database can be found in the "EU-LFS user guide".

Data for researchers

Availability and release of anonymised LFS microdata

The current legal framework enables access to anonymised LFS microdata available at Eurostat for scientific purposes only, also referred to as scientific use files. The available datasets are disseminated free of charge. The scientific use files are updated on a yearly basis and become available to users at the end of a year. New data usually added in the release of year Y are core LFS data for year Y-1 and ad hoc module data for year Y-2. All revisions of other datasets which were transmitted to Eurostat since the previous release are included as well. Thus, the scientific use files release of year Y contains (subject to availability and country agreement):

  • Core LFS data for reference years from 1983 to Y-1
  • Ad hoc module data for reference years 1999 to Y-2 (except for 2000 and 2001 for the time being)

National Statistical Institutes transmit LFS microdata to Eurostat, but they remain owners of their data. LFS microdata are confidential data which contain information about individual statistical units. In order to minimize the risk of disclosure of the statistical units to which the records relate, anonymisation criteria are applied to both core and ad-hoc module scientific use files. This consists of deleting certain variables and aggregating others. The anonymisation and aggregation criteria are defined and agreed regularly between Eurostat and the National Statistical Institutes in the Working Group Labour Market Statistics, enabling Eurostat to make EU-LFS microdata available to researchers.

For more specific conditions on how to obtain microdata, please consult: Access to EU-LFS microdata . The website contains detailed information on the latest available EU-LFS microdata in an "information note" and the "EU-LFS user guide" describing all variables. This user guide includes the detailed anonymisation criteria for the scientific use files.

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