Employment - quarterly statistics
Data extracted in April 2021
Planned article update: October 2021
The health crisis caused by to the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on employment in the European Union. Many EU Member States have implemented measures such as short-term work or financial assistance to businesses to mitigate the negative effects of the COVID-19 crisis on employment and businesses. However, employment was clearly impacted particularly in the second quarter of 2020. Several factors could explain this: inflows into employment could have been reduced because businesses slowed, revised, or cancelled their hiring processes, or because they decided not to renew fixed-term contracts or probationary periods, for example. As explained further in this article, these specific effects affecting directly young people were clearly visible during the second quarter of 2020. Furthermore, businesses may have laid off employees, increasing outflows from the labour force. The third quarter of 2020 was characterised by a reduction in containment measures in many countries, with an increase in activity as a result. The fourth quarter of 2020 confirmed the increase recorded in the previous quarter, albeit with a more temperate increase.
This article focuses on the changes in employment observed during the crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic based on the quarterly data from the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS). It depicts recent and long-term employment trends, primarily on a global European scale, but also specifically by gender, age, and level of educational attainment. A specific analysis is dedicated to the evolution of temporary contracts and part-time work.
This article is supplemented by another article that provides a detailed analysis of the evolution of the employed population by occupation, sector of economic activity and professional status by EU Member State. Both articles are part of the publication Labour market in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current version of these articles focuses on the evolution of employment from the fourth quarter 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2020.
Note: Please take note that figures presented in this article may differ in some cases from the source data due to continuous revision of the Eurostat database (Employment and unemployment (Labour Force Survey)).
Employment overview in 2020 in the EU and the Member States
Following the most severe decline since 2000 (-1.4 p.p. from Q1 to Q2 2020), the employment rate increased by 0.6 p.p. in Q3 2020 and by 0.3 p.p. in Q4 2020
Since 2013, the share of employed people in the total EU population kept on growing from one quarter to the next until the third and the fourth quarter of 2019 (using seasonally adjusted data) when it remained stable and slightly decreased in the first quarter of 2020 (-0.1 percentage points (p.p.)). However, from the first quarter of 2020 (Q1 2020) to the second quarter of 2020 (Q2 2020), the share of people in employment went down from 73.1 % to 71.7 % (-1.4 p.p.), recording the sharpest cut since 2000 (see Figure 1). The employment rate increased by 0.6 p.p. between the second and third quarters of 2020, followed by a 0.3 p.p. increase in the fourth quarter of 2020. These recent increases have not yet compensated for the decrease observed in the second quarter of 2020.
Another relevant finding concerns the labour force (also known as the active population), which includes both employed and unemployed people: its share of the total population reached 78.2 % in Q4 2020, following a 1.3 p.p. decrease between Q1 and Q2 2020. In contrast to employment, it has nearly recovered to pre-COVID-19 level (the labour force share was 78.3 % in Q4 2019). This could be explained in part by the number of people who likely gave up their job search during Q2 2020 and thus did not meet the ILO criteria for being considered unemployed and thus part of the labour force. However, in Q3 2020, those people began looking for work again and, as a result, were reintegrated into the labour force (being considered again as unemployed). More information on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the unemployed population can be found in the articles Key figures on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the labour market and Labour market slack - unmet need for employment - quarterly statistics.
23 out of 27 EU Member States had lower employment rate in Q4 2020 compared to Q4 2019
In order to provide an accurate picture of what happened in 2020 in terms of employment, Figure 2 presents the employment rate of people aged 20 to 64 in each quarter from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2020. This figure clearly shows that most countries were steeply affected during the second quarter of 2020. The employment rate in Spain, Ireland and Estonia fell by more than 3 p.p. between the first and the second quarter of 2020, respectively by 4.2 p.p., 4.0 p.p. and 3.5 p.p. which were the largest quarter-on-quarter drops recorded in 2020. From Q1 to Q2 2020, the employment rate increased only in Luxembourg (+0.2 p.p.).
Despite the EU-wide upturn between the second and third quarters, the employment rate in ten countries continued to fall, albeit to a lesser extent than in the previous quarters (all decreases were between -0.5 p.p. and -0.1 p.p.). This also implies that, at the time, the majority of countries' employment rates were stable or increasing. The most significant rebounds in the third quarter compared to the second quarter were found in Bulgaria and Spain (+1.6 p.p. both), Austria (+1.5 p.p.), Ireland (+1.4 p.p.), France Metropolitan (+1.1 p.p.) and France (+1.0 p.p.).
From the third to the fourth quarter of 2020, the employment rate increased in 18 out of 27 EU Member States, Luxembourg (+2.1 p.p.) and Estonia (+1.2 p.p.) registered the largest increases. The employment rate remained stable in four countries, Germany, Czechia, Malta and Slovenia, and slightly decreased in five, namely Hungary, Cyprus, Austria, Belgium and Slovakia with drops between -0.3 p.p. and -0.1 p.p.
Only four EU Member States recovered or even exceeded their fourth-quarter 2019 level in the fourth quarter of 2020. This was the case of Poland (+0.9 p.p. in Q4 2020 compared to Q4 2019), Luxembourg (+0.6 p.p.), Malta (+0.5 p.p.) and Greece (+0.1 p.p.).
Sweden (80.6 %) and Germany (80.0 %) had the highest employment rates among people aged 20 to 64 in Q4 2020 (see Figure 2). Please refer to the methodological note on German data related to all quarters of 2020 in the section "Data sources". In contrast, Greece (61.4 %), Italy (62.9 %), Spain (66.0 %), Croatia (66.9 %), and Belgium (69.9 %) had the lowest employment rates, with fewer than seven out of ten people employed in the fourth quarter of 2020. In the last quarter of 2020, the employment gender gap in the EU was 11.2 p.p., with 78.2 % of men employed compared to 67.0 % of women. Largest differences were reported by Italy (19.5 p.p.), Romania (19.4 p.p.), Greece (18.5 p.p.) and Malta (18.0 p.p.). There was a significant gender disparity in employment among the EU Member States, with the gap being less than 5 p.p. in Lithuania, Finland, Latvia, and Estonia.
Differences in the development of the employment rates of men and women between Q4 2019 and Q4 2020 were more or less pronounced across countries, and not systematically in favour of men or women, as displayed in Figure 4. Malta, Germany and Estonia reported the largest differences between men and women. In Malta, the employment rate of men decreased by 1 p.p; while those of women went up by 2.3 p.p (gap of 3.3 p.p.). In Germany, the share of employed men fell by 1.4 p.p. while the share of employed women increased by 0.5 p.p. (gap of 1.9 p.p.). In Estonia, the share of employed men fell by 2.9 p.p., while the share of employed women fell by 1.0 p.p. (gap of 1.9 p.p.).
In Q4 2020 young people still far from their level of employment in Q4 2019
The employment rate of young people (aged 15 to 24) went down in all EU Member States between Q4 2019 and Q4 2020, except in Romania
In the European Union, employed people aged 15-24 accounted for 14.3 million people in the fourth quarter of 2020, accounting for 7.5 % of all employed people aged 15-64. This proportion was 7.9 % a year earlier, in Q4 2019.
The employment rate in the EU among young people was 31.1 % in Q4 2020 against 33.5 % in Q4 2019 (-2.4 p.p.). Among the EU Member states, during the fourth quarter of 2020, more than half of young people were employed in the Netherlands (62.5 %), Denmark (53.0 %) and Austria (50.3 %) but less than 20 % in Bulgaria, Spain, Italy and Greece. Between Q4 2019 and Q4 2020, the employment rate of people aged 15 to 24 fell by more than 5 p.p. in Poland, Portugal and Malta (all -5.4 ) and by 6.3 p.p. in Ireland.
Moreover, in the EU, 80.1 % of persons aged between 25 and 54 were employed in the fourth quarter of 2020 against 80.7% in the fourth quarter of 2019. This age category stood for 141.2 million people in Q4 2020. In Spain and Lithuania, employment of people aged 25 to 54 was more than 2 p.p. lower in Q4 2020 compared to Q4 2019 as shown in Figure 6. These were the largest decreases found among the EU countries.
Employed people aged 55-64 stood for 36.2 million people in Q4 2020 in the EU. From Q4 2019 to Q4 2020, the share of employed people aged 55-64 increased by +0.5 p.p., reaching 60.2 % in Q4 2020. Among the EU countries, the share of employed people aged 55 to 64 increased in 20 countries, remained stable in one and decreased in 6 countries. This share increased the most, by more than 2 p.p. between the two quarters, in Slovenia (+4.2 p.p.), Poland (+4.0 p.p.), Hungary (+3.3 p.p.) and Greece (+2.3 p.p.).
Disparate employment rates for men and women with low, medium and high educational attainment levels
The employment evolution by sex and educational attainment level over the period Q1 2005 - Q4 2020 shows noticeable differences, both for men and women (aged 20-64), according to their level of educational attainment (see Figure 7). First, men with a high educational level (i.e. tertiary education) were always more likely to be employed than men with a medium (i.e. at most upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education) or a low educational level (i.e. less than primary, primary or lower secondary education, at most). This was also true for women. Similarly, people with a medium educational level were more likely to be employed than those with a low educational level. Secondly, the greater the disparity in employment rates between men and women, the lower the educational attainment level.
Men and women with a high educational level followed roughly the same developments over time and maintained a permanent gap between their respective employment rates. Nevertheless, the gender employment gap for people with a high educational level slightly narrowed over time: from 7.7 p.p. in Q1 2005 to 6.0 p.p. in Q4 2020.
In the fourth quarter of 2020, 87.4 % of men and 81.4 % of women with a high educational level were employed. Women with a high educational level had the lowest employment rate decrease (-0.6 p.p.) between Q4 2019 and Q4 2020, compared to men with a high educational level (-1.0 p.p.), but also to men and women with a medium and low educational level (see below).
Focusing on men and women with a medium level of education, the employment rate followed the same trend for both genders from Q1 2005 to Q4 2020, though fluctuations were sometimes slightly more pronounced for one gender than the other. However, the employment rate of women with a medium level of education was never higher than or equal to that of men. A gender employment gap was present over the whole period Q1 2005 - Q4 2020. It corresponded to 13.4 p.p. in Q1 2005, and reached 11.8 p.p. in Q4 2020. Almost eight out of ten men with a medium educational level (78.1 %) were employed against less than two thirds of women (66.3 %) in Q4 2020. For women, the drop between Q4 2019 and Q4 2020 was less sharp than for men (-1.0 p.p. for women against -1.3 p.p. for men).
In terms of people with a low level of educational attainment in employment, the employment rate of men with a low educational level corresponded to 65.8 % in Q4 2020. In other words, in the fourth quarter of 2020, slightly less than two out of every three men with a low level of educational attainment were employed. For women, the employment rate was 43.6 %, meaning that less than half of women with a low educational attainment level were employed. The gap between men and women was 25.9 p.p. in Q1 2005 but still amounted to 22.2 p.p. in Q4 2020.
Temporary contracts and part-time employment lag behind
A 10% drop in temporary contracts
Temporary contracts accounted for 10.6 % of total EU employment in the last quarter of 2020, or slightly more than one out of every ten employed people in the EU in Q4 2020, compared to 11.7 % in Q4 2019. From Q4 2019 to Q2 2020, the number of temporary contracts fell by 15.1 % while employment fell by 2.5 %. Consecutively, between Q2 2020 and Q4 2020, the temporary contracts increased by 6.0 %. Over the period Q4 2019-Q4 2020, they decreased by 10.1 % (see Figure 8).
Women with temporary contracts accounted for 11.9 % of the total female employment while this share was 9.6 % for men in the fourth quarter of 2020 (see Figure 9). Men and women seem to follow the same trend however the development in 2020 slightly differs. From Q4 2019 to Q2 2020, the share of temporary contracts in the total female employment decreased by 1.6 p.p. against 1.4 p.p. for men. However, from Q2 2020 to Q4 2020, this share increased by 0.7 p.p. for women but only by 0.3 p.p. for men.
Figure 10 shows the level of temporary contracts in each quarter of 2020 by taking Q4 2019 as a reference (fixed to 100). The level in Q4 2020 was below the level in Q4 2019 in 23 out of 26 countries for which data is available, and in 5 countries, the level in Q4 2020 was even more than 20 % lower than in Q4 2019: these countries were Slovakia (69.2 in Q4 2020), Greece (75.7), Romania (77.3), Slovenia (77.7) and Bulgaria (78.3).
Decrease by 8% in part-time employment
Part-time employment corresponded in Q4 2020 to 16.6 % of the total EU employment. From Q4 2019 to Q2 2020, part-time employment dropped by 9.3 % while total employment fell by 2.5 %. Consecutively, between Q2 2020 and Q4 2020, the number of people in part-time employment increased by 1.4 %. Over the period Q4 2019-Q4 2020, they decreased by 8.0 % (see Figure 8).
Figure 9 shows clearly the gender gap among part-time employment. In the total female employment, women with part-time employment amounted to 27.3 % against 7.3 % for men. From Q4 2019 to Q2 2020, the share of women with part-time employment decreased by 1.9 p.p. against 0.7 p.p. for men, and from Q2 2020 to Q4 2020, the share of women still decreased by 0.2 p.p. while the share of men increased by 0.2 p.p. Comparing Q4 2020 with Q4 2019, women in part-time employment experienced a largest decrease than men in part-time employment (-2.1 p.p. for women versus -0.5 p.p. for men).
As previously shown for temporary contracts, Figure 10 shows the level in each quarter of 2020 by taking Q4 2019 as a reference (fixed to 100). Based on Figure 11, five out of twenty-six countries for which data is available were at least 10 points below their level of Q4 2019, namely Greece (82.1 in Q4 2020), Ireland (89.3), Malta (89.7), Romania and Portugal (both 89.9).
Source data for tables and graphs
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 countries.
European aggregates: EU refers to the sum of the 27 EU Member States.
Country note: (1) In Germany, from the first quarter of 2020 onwards, 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 have had a large impact on the data collection processes, resulting in low response rates and a biased sample. For this reason, the full sample of the whole microcensus has been used to estimate a restricted set of indicators for the four quarters of 2020 for the production of LFS Main Indicators. These estimates have been used for the publication of German results, but also for the calculation of EU and EA aggregates. By contrast, EU and EA aggregates published in the Detailed quarterly results (showing more and different breakdowns than the LFS Main Indicators) have been computed using only available data from the LFS subsample. As a consequence, small differences in the EU and EA aggregates in tables from both collections may be observed. For more information, see here. (2) Metropolitan France, also known as European France, is the area of the French Republic which is geographically in Europe. It comprises mainland France and Corsica, as well as nearby islands situated in the Atlantic Ocean, the English Channel and the Mediterranean Sea. In contrast, overseas France is the collective name for all the French-administered territories outside Europe. Metropolitan and overseas France together form the French Republic, referred to as "France" in the EU-LFS database.
Definitions: The concepts and definitions used in the Labour Force Survey follow the guidelines of the International Labour Organisation.
Different articles on detailed technical and methodological information are linked from the overview page of the online publication EU Labour Force Survey.
Seasonally adjustment models: Some of the EU-LFS based seasonally adjusted data published this quarter has been revised substantially. Indeed, the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis actually lead to a major shock into the series. The impact of COVID-19 on a number of indicators have been explicitly modelled as outliers, and the combined effect of this shock and the new identification of the models explains the observed revisions. The methodological choices of Eurostat in terms of seasonal adjustment in the COVID period are summarised in the methodological paper: "Guidance on time series treatment in the context of the COVID-19 crisis". These choices assure the quality of the results and the optimal equilibrium between the risk of high revisions and the need for meaningful figures, as less as possible affected by random variability due to the COVID shock.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe in January and February 2020, with the first cases confirmed in Spain, France and Italy. COVID-19 infections have since been diagnosed in all European Union (EU) Member States. To fight the pandemic, EU Member States have taken a wide variety of measures. From the second week of March, most countries closed retail shops, with the exception of supermarkets, pharmacies and banks. Bars, restaurants and hotels were also closed. In Italy and Spain, non-essential production was stopped and several countries imposed regional or even national lock-down measures which further stifled economic activities in many areas. In addition, schools were closed, public events were cancelled and private gatherings (with numbers of persons varying from 2 to over 50) banned in most EU Member States.
The majority of the preventative measures were taken during mid-March 2020, and most of the measures and restrictions were in place for the whole of April and May 2020. The first quarter of 2020 was consequently the first quarter in which the labour market across the EU was affected by COVID-19 measures taken by Member States.
Employment and unemployment as defined by the ILO concept are, in this particular situation, not sufficient to describe the developments taking place in the labour market. In the first phase of the crisis, active measures to contain employment losses led to absences from work rather than dismissals, and individuals could not look for work or were not available due to the containment measures, thus not counting as unemployed.
The quarterly data on employment allows along the quarters to report on the impact of the crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic on employment. This specific article focuses on the age and the level of education attainment of employed people in order to determine potential categories more or less affected by the economic downturn. It also shows the evolution of part-time employment and temporary contracts. Another article on the evolution of employment by occupation, sector of economic activity and professional status is also available in the context of the publication Labour market in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- All articles on employment
- Labour market in the light of the COVID 19 pandemic - quarterly statistics
- Employment rates – annual statistics
- Job vacancy statistics
- Labour market statistics at regional level
- People outside the labour force
- The EU in the world - labour market
- Labour market slack – annual statistics on unmet needs for employment
- 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)
- EU labour force survey — online publication
- Labour Force Survey in the EU, candidate and EFTA countries — Main characteristics of national surveys, 2017, 2018 edition
- Quality Report of the European Union Labour Force Survey 2017, 2019 edition
ESMS metadata files and EU-LFS methodology
- Employment and unemployment (Labour Force Survey) (ESMS metadata file — employ_esms)
- Employment growth and activity branches - annual averages (ESMS metadata file — lfsi_grt_a_esms)
- LFS ad-hoc modules (ESMS metadata file — lfso_esms)
- LFS main indicators (ESMS metadata file — lfsi_esms)
- LFS series - Detailed annual survey results (ESMS metadata file — lfsa_esms)
- LFS series - detailed quarterly survey results (from 1998 onwards) (ESMS metadata file — lfsq_esms)