Statistics Explained

Employment - annual statistics

Data from April 2022

Planned article update: 27 April 2023


The EU employment rate (for people aged 20-64) went up from 71.7 % in 2020 to 73.1 % in 2021, an increase of 1.4 percentage points (pp).
At EU level, the share of employed people who usually or sometimes work from home greatly increased from 14.6 % to 24.4 % between 2019 and 2021.
In 2021, the employment rate of 16 out of 27 EU Member States reached or exceeded their pre-pandemic level.
Poland and Romania recorded the largest increases in the employment rate between 2019 and 2021 (more than 2 pp).

Tool 1: Employment (total, female, male, youth and senior), 2009-2021
(% of the population aged 20 to 64)
Source: Eurostat

This article presents the most recent EU annual statistics on employment based on the EU Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS). It shows the level of employment by sex, age and educational attainment level for the EU as a whole as well as for each EU Member States, for 3 EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) and one candidate country (Serbia).

The article also highlights the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the labour market and provides an overview of the latest changes in terms of remote work.

Please note that numbers and rates shown in the tools and mentioned in the text of this article may differ in some cases, due to continuous revision of the source data: the tools refer to the most recent data (as shown in the Eurostat database under Employment and unemployment (Labour Force Survey)) while the text refers to data from April 2022.

Full article

Employment in 2021 compared with the EU target

The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council launched the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan in 2017. It expresses principles and rights for fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems in Europe. Reaching a 78 % employment rate in the EU is one of the three targets set for 2030. In 2021, the share of employed people in the total population was 73.1 % or, around 189 700 000 people. Among EU Member States (see Map 1), the employment rate was higher than 78 % in 8 countries, between 74 % and 78 % in 11 countries and below 74 % in the remaining 8 countries.

The Netherlands (81.7 %), Sweden (80.7 %) and Czechia (80.0 %) had the highest employment rates in the EU, with more than 8 out of 10 persons aged 20 to 64 in employment in 2021. Similar employment rates are observed in the three EFTA countries for which data is available, i.e. Switzerland (81.8 %), Iceland (81.4 %) and Norway (80.0 %). At the same time, less than 70 % of the population aged 20 to 64 were employed in Croatia (68.2 %), Spain (67.7 %), Romania (67.1 %), Italy (62.7 %) and Greece (62.6 %).

Map 1: EU employment rate, aged 20-64, 2021
(in % of the total population)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery

In 2021, the EU employment rate of people aged 20-64 was 73.1 %. The female employment rate was 67.7 % while the male employment rate reached 78.5 %.

The trend over the last decade was as follows:

  • From 2009 to 2013, female employment recorded an upward trend, while male employment recorded a downward trend.
  • From 2014 to 2019, the employment rate increased steadily for both men and women. As explained in this article, this positive trend is mainly due to sustained growth in the share of employed people aged 55-64 (see Tool 1).
  • However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the labour market in 2020, the employment rate decreased by 1.0 percentage point (pp) compared to 2019 (-1.0 pp for women and -1.1 pp for men).
  • From 2020 to 2021, the share of employed people increased by 1.4 pp with this increase higher for women (+1.6 pp) than for men (+1.3 pp).

The gender employment gap, meaning the difference between the employment rate of men and women, narrowed from 13.4 pp in 2009 to 11.1 pp in 2014. Since then, it has continued to narrow but to a lesser extent, reaching 10.8 pp in 2021. In 2021, 46.3 % of employed people were women.

Romania, Greece, Italy, Malta and Czechia had the largest gender employment gaps, with more than 15 pp of difference between the male and female employment rate in 2021. By contrast, the gender employment gap was less than 5 pp in Lithuania, Finland, Estonia and Latvia (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Employment rate by sex and country, 2021
(in % of the total population aged 20-64)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

Figure 2 shows the employment rate trend by country between 2019 and 2020 for the population aged 20-64 to show the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as between 2019 and 2021 to show the recovery process.

From 2019 to 2020, the employment rate fell in most countries. Austria, Spain, Greece and Ireland recorded the largest decreases in the employment rate, all more than 2 pp. Only 4 EU Member States recorded an increase in the share of employed people, namely Malta, Poland, Croatia and Romania. However, the increase was less than 0.5 pp.

One year later, in 2021, the employment rate reached or exceeded the pre-pandemic level in 16 EU Member States. The largest increases from 2019 to 2021 were recorded in Poland (+3.1 pp), Romania (+2.0 pp), Greece and Malta (both +1.8 pp). By contrast, 11 countries recorded a 2021 employment rate lower than in 2019. The largest declines compared to 2019 were reported by Latvia (-2.0 pp), Estonia and Austria (both -1.2 pp), Bulgaria (-1.1 pp) and Slovakia (-1.0 pp).

Figure 2: Employment rate trend by country in 2020 and 2021 compared to 2019
(in percentage points, people aged 20-64)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

Senior versus youth employment

The structure of the EU labour market changed significantly over the 12-year period between 2009 and 2021. The previous section of this article already highlighted the increasing share of employed women over time. Another relevant finding is the growing share of employed people aged 55-64 and the decreasing share of employed people aged 15-24. People aged 55-64 accounted for 12.5 % of total employed people aged 15-64 in 2009 rising to 19.0 % of the total in 2021. Almost 1 in 10 employed people (9.2 %) were aged between 15 and 24 years in 2009 whereas their share fell to 7.8 % in 2021 (see attached Excel file for related data).

Figure 3 displays the employment rate trend by age group and sex. It clearly shows that the employment rate varies significantly from one category to another. First, in 2021, 30.3 % of young women and 35.0 % of young men aged 15-24 were employed in the EU. In the same year, 85.7 % of men aged 25-54 were employed, while women aged 25-54 had an employment rate of 75.1 %. For people aged 55-64, almost two thirds of men (67.0 %) were employed against 54.3 % of women in the same age group. The older the people, the wider the gender employment gap.

Figure 3: Employment rate trend by age group and sex, EU, 2009-2021
(in % of the total population)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

The long-term trend shows that the employment of people aged 55-64 records an upward trend globally and fluctuates less than for younger people, even when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the labour market in 2020. Over the 12-year period from 2009 to 2021, the employment rate of women aged 55-64 recorded a sharp increase of 19.1 pp. The increase was also substantial for men aged 55-64 (+15.0 pp). The employment rate went up by 4.9 pp for women and by 2.5 pp for men aged 25-54. The smallest increases in the employment rate were recorded by young men and women (+0.2 pp for both sexes).

Figure 3 also highlights the impact of the health crisis on employment, specifically on youth employment:

  • The employment rate fell by around 2 pp for young men and women between 2019 and 2020. It failed to recover to the pre-pandemic level in 2021 and was still around 1.2 pp below the 2019 value.
  • Employment of men aged 25-54 reached its pre-pandemic level in 2021, while the employment rate of women in the same age group was 0.5 pp higher in 2021 than in 2019.
  • The share of employed people aged 55-64 increased by 2.0 pp for women and by 1.7 pp for men from 2019 to 2021.

In 2021, the employment of young people had fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic in only 6 EU countries: Cyprus, France, Ireland, Germany, Luxembourg and Romania (see Figure 4). In these countries, the employment rate in 2021 reached or exceeded the pre-pandemic level. By contrast, the 2021 rate in Portugal and Estonia was still around 5 pp below its 2019 level. The picture is significantly different for senior employment: only 3 out of 27 EU Member States recorded an employment rate lower in 2021 than in 2019, namely Italy, Lithuania and Estonia.

Figure 4: Employment rate trend in 2021 compared to 2019 by country, people aged 15-24 and 55-64
(in percentage points)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

Employment rate by level of education

The level of educational attainment significantly affects the employment rate (see Tool 2 and Figure 5). The employment rate of people (aged 20-64) who had completed a high level of education was 85.0 % for the EU in 2021. This was much higher than the rate for those who have only attained a low education level, which was 54.9 % for the EU. It is worth noting that a high level of educational attainment refers to short-cycle tertiary, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral levels (or equivalents; ISCED levels 5-8), while a low level refers to primary or lower secondary education (ISCED levels 0-2). The EU employment rate of people who have completed their education to a medium level, i.e. an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED levels 3-4), was between the two previous rates in 2021, at 72.8 %. Consequently, the higher the educational attainment level, the higher the employment rate. All EU Member States followed this pattern in 2021, albeit to a different extent, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Employment rate by educational attainment level and country in 2021
(in % of the total population aged 20-64, sorted by descending order on the low level)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

As well as being the least likely to get a job (among the 3 education level groups), people with a low educational attainment level recorded the slowest employment rate increase between 2009 and 2021 (+2.3 pp). The corresponding increases over the same period for those with a medium or high level of educational attainment were +3.7 pp and +2.5 pp respectively.

The employment rate in 2021 was still below its pre-pandemic level (in 2019) for people with a low level (-0.1 pp) and for those with a medium level (-0.2 pp) but was above its pre-pandemic level for those with a high level of educational attainment (+0.2 pp) (see Tool 2).

Tool 2: Employment rate by level of education, 2009-2021
(% of the population with low/medium/high level of education aged 20-64)
Source: Eurostat

A second point worth raising is the gender employment gap by education level (see Figure 6). The lower the educational attainment level, the wider the employment gap between men and women. In 2021, among people with a high level of educational attainment, the gender employment gap was 5.3 pp. It was 12.0 pp for people with a medium level and reached 22.0 pp for those with a low level of educational attainment.

Figure 6: Employment rate by educational attainment level and sex, EU, 2021
(in % of the total population aged 20-64)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_educ_a)

Finally, Figure 7 shows the trend in the number of people aged 20-64 in the whole population and in employment by educational attainment level. The changes over the last decade is clearly visible. From 2009 to 2021, the number of employed people with a low level of education decreased by 27.5 %. It follows the significant and steady decline in the population aged 20-64 with a low level of education. Over the same 12-year period, the number of employed people with a medium level of education decreased by 0.9 %. The number of employed people with a high level of education increased by 41.7 % which is by far the largest change recorded over this period.

Figure 7: Trend in the population and in employment by educational attainment level, EU, 2009-2021
(in thousands, people aged 20-64)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_educ_a)

Remote work: disparities by country and level of education

The share of employed people who sometimes or usually worked from home was 24.4% in 2021. This share increased with the level of education. In 2021, employed people with a high education level are more likely to (sometimes or usually) work from home (43.9 % of people working from home) than employed people with a low (6.4 %) or medium level of education (14.7 %) (see Figure 8).

Note that 'usually working at home' means doing any productive work related to the current job at home for at least half of the days worked in a reference period of 4 weeks, and 'sometimes working at home' means the same but for at least 1 hour in the reference period of 4 weeks (and less than half of the days worked).

The share of people usually working from home (excluding those sometimes working from home) was 24.7 % among people with a high level of education, 8.1 % among those with a medium level of education and 3.4 % among those with a low level of education in 2021.

Women with a low or a medium level of education were more likely to (usually or sometimes) work from home than their male counterparts. By contrast, men with a high level of education were more likely to work from home than their female counterparts.

Figure 8: Distribution of people working from home by frequency, educational attainment level and by sex, EU, 2021
(in % of total employed people aged 20-64)
Source: Eurostat (ad-hoc extraction)

Working from home has become more common among employed people in recent years. As shown in Figure 9, the share of employed people working from home was 14.6 % in 2019, 20.9 % in 2020 and 24.4 % in 2021. The COVID-19 crisis amplified the phenomenon of remote work, generating an increase of 6.3 pp between 2019 and 2020 and a further increase of 3.5 pp between 2020 and 2021.

Figure 9: Share of employed people working from home sometimes or usually by EU Member States in 2019, 2020 and in 2021
(in % of total employed people aged 20-64)
Source: Eurostat (ad hoc extraction)

The EU Member States show very disparate situations among employed people working from home (see Figure 9). In the Netherlands, Sweden and Luxembourg, more than 45 % of employed people (usually or sometimes) worked from home in 2021, while less than 10 % did so in Bulgaria and Romania.

Overall, from 2019 to 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, all countries registered an increase in the share of people working from home. From 2020 to 2021, it continued to increase in all EU Member States except in Poland, Luxembourg and Austria.

Source data for tables and graphs

Methods and definitions

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. 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. 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.

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 EFTA Member States Iceland, Norway and 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 and EU-27 refer to the totality of the EU of 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.

Country notes

In Germany, from the first quarter of 2020 onwards, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) is part of a new system of integrated household surveys. Technical issues and the COVID-19 crisis has had a large impact on data collection processes in 2020, resulting in low response rates and a biased sample. For more information, see here.

In the Netherlands, the 2021 LFS data remains collected using a rolling reference week instead of a fixed reference week, i.e. interviewed persons are asked about the situation of the week before the interview rather than a pre-selected week.


The concepts and definitions used in the EU-LFS follow the guidelines of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Employment covers persons 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.

Employment can be measured in terms of the number of persons or jobs, in full-time equivalents or in hours worked. All the estimates presented in this article use the number of persons; the information presented for employment rates is also built on estimates for the number of persons. 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. The 15 to 64 years age range is also a standard used by other international statistical organisations (although the age range of 20 to 64 years is given increasing prominence by some policymakers as a rising share of the EU population continue their studies into tertiary education).

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.

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 LFS main indicators, which contains seasonally adjusted series. They include the labour market headline indicators used e.g. in the Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure Scoreboard or the European Statistical Recovery Dashboard and are consequently used for monitoring policy. They have only a few breakdowns and normally refer to the age group 20-64.

2) The detailed results, which contain series that are not seasonally adjusted. They have a large number of breakdowns and can therefore be used for more detailed analysis.

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

Main concepts: Some main employment characteristics, as defined by the EU-LFS, include:

  • employees are defined as those who work for a public or private employer and who receive compensation in the form of wages, salaries, payment by results, or payment in kind; non-conscript members of the armed forces are also included;
  • self-employed persons work in their own business, farm or professional practice. A self-employed person is considered to be working during the reference week if she/he meets one of the following criteria: works for the purpose of earning profit; spends time on the operation of a business; or is currently establishing a business;
  • 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 hours 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;
  • an employee is considered as having a temporary job if employer and employee agree that its end is determined by objective conditions, such as a specific date, the completion of an assignment, or the return of an employee who is temporarily replaced. Typical cases include: people in seasonal employment; people engaged by an agency or employment exchange and hired to a third party to perform a specific task (unless there is a written work contract of unlimited duration); people with specific training contracts.

The level of education refers to the educational attainment level, i.e. the highest level of education successfully completed. Low level of education refers to ISCED levels 0-2 (less than primary, primary and lower secondary education), medium level refers to ISCD levels 3 and 4 (upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education) and high level of education refers to ISCED levels 5-8 (tertiary education).

Time series

Regulation (EU) 2019/1700 came into force on 1 January 2021 and induced a break in the LFS time series for several EU Member States. In order to monitor the evolution of employment and unemployment despite of the break in the time series, Member States assessed the impact of the break in their country and computed impact factors or break corrected data for a set of indicators. Break corrected data are published for the LFS main indicators.

More information on the LFS can be found via the online publication EU Labour Force Survey, which includes eight articles on the technical and methodological aspects of the survey. The EU-LFS methodology in force from the 2021 data collection onwards is described in methodology from 2021 onwards. Detailed information on coding lists, explanatory notes and classifications used over time can be found under documentation.


Employment statistics can be used for a number of different analyses, including macroeconomic (looking at labour as a production factor), productivity or competitiveness studies. They can also be used to study a range of social and behavioural aspects related to an individual’s employment situation, such as the social integration of minorities, or employment as a source of household income.

Employment is both a structural indicator and a short-term indicator. As a structural indicator, it may shed light on the structure of labour markets and economic systems, as measured through the balance of labour supply and demand, or the quality of employment. As a short-term indicator, employment follows the business cycle; however, it has limits in this respect, as employment is often referred to as a lagging indicator.

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.

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.

At the Informal meeting of heads of state or government of 7-8 May 2021, EU leaders discussed on the implementation of the European pillar of social rights at EU and national level, as established by the EU strategic agenda 2019-2024. The action plan presented by the Commission in March 2021 provides guidance on the implementation of the European pillar of social rights, including in the areas of employment, skills and social protection. The action plan also sets three main targets to be achieved throughout the European Union by 2030:

  • an employment rate of at least 78% in the EU;
  • at least 60% of adults attending training courses every year;
  • a reduction of at least 15 million in the number of people at risk of social exclusion or poverty.

For more information, see here.

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Dedicated section

LFS main indicators (t_lfsi)
Population, activity and inactivity - LFS adjusted series (t_lfsi_act)
Employment - LFS adjusted series (t_lfsi_emp)
Unemployment - LFS adjusted series (t_une)
LFS series - Detailed annual survey results (t_lfsa)
LFS series - Specific topics (t_lfst)
LFS main indicators (lfsi)
Employment and activity - LFS adjusted series (lfsi_emp)
Unemployment - LFS adjusted series (une)
Labour market transitions - LFS longitudinal data (lfsi_long)
LFS series - Detailed quarterly survey results (from 1998 onwards) (lfsq)
LFS series - Detailed annual survey results (lfsa)
LFS series - Specific topics (lfst)
LFS ad-hoc modules (lfso)


ESMS metadata files and EU-LFS methodology