Statistics Explained

Employment - quarterly statistics

Data extracted in March 2022

Planned article update: October 2022


In the third quarter of 2021, two thirds of the EU Member States (18 out of 27) had their employment rate higher or equal to their pre-pandemic level of Q4 2019.
Among EU Member States, the largest increases in employment rate from Q4 2019 to Q3 2021 were reported by Poland (+3 p.p.) and Slovenia (+2 p.p.).
In the EU, in the third quarter of 2021, almost half of the employed people aged 15-24 worked under temporary contract.
Development of the employment rate of people aged 20-64 between Q4 2019 and Q3 2021
(in % of the total population, seasonally adjusted data)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_q)

The third quarter of 2021 achieved an additional step in the recovery of the European economy and labour market. Most countries moved forward and continued to reduce social distancing measures generated by the health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other specific actions taken to soften the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on employment and businesses were progressively lifted, such as financial assistance to businesses in many EU Member States. The rebound of the economy was confirmed in this third quarter of 2021, and was clearly visible in the development of employment in comparison with the pre-COVID-19 situation.

This article gives an overview of employment at EU level, as well as at national level in the individual Member States, three EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) and one candidate country (Serbia). Results come from the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS). This article depicts employment in general and specifically by gender, age and level of educational attainment. A specific focus is also dedicated to temporary contracts and part-time work in the three first quarters of 2021.

This article is part of the publication Labour market in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Full article

Main facts in the third quarter of 2021

In the third quarter of 2021, the share of employed people in the total population aged 20 to 64 reached 73.6 % at EU level. In the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Czechia, more than 8 in 10 people aged 20 to 64 were employed (employment rates amounted to 82.7 %, 81.0 %, 80.4 % and 80.2 % respectively) while the share of employed people stood below 70 % in Italy and Greece (both with 63.3 %), Romania (67.3 %), Croatia (67.9 %) and Spain (68.0 %).

The total employment rate masks significant difference between men and women. At EU level, while 79.0 % of men aged 20-64 were employed, the employment rate of women was equal to 68.3 %. Therefore, the gender employment gap reached 10.7 percentage points (p.p.) in the third quarter of 2021.

Figure 1 shows that the employment rate varies across countries as well as between men and women in many EU Member States. In all EU Member States, the share of employed men was higher than the share of employed women. Although the three widest gender employment gaps were observed in countries with the lowest employment rates, this relation is not universal. The largest differences between the employment rate of men and women were found in Romania, Italy, Greece and Malta, all showing a gender employment gap of at least 18.0 p.p. in the third quarter of 2021. In contrast, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, Sweden and Latvia recorded the narrowest gaps between men and women, all below 5.0 p.p.. Czechia, Malta and the Netherlands reported the highest employment rates of men, with 87.4 %, 87.0 % and 86.4 % respectively, while the highest female employment rates were found in the Netherlands (79.0 %), Sweden (78.7 %) and Lithuania (77.8 %).

Figure 1: Employment rate by sex and country, Q3 2021
(in % of the total population, age 20-64)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_q)

Most countries with a Q3 2021 employment rate above its pre-COVID level

In most EU Member States employment recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic strongly hit EU employment in the second quarter of 2020. At EU level, the employment rate decreased by 2.2 p.p. from Q4 2019 (last quarter before the pandemic) to Q2 2020. In all EU Member States, the employment of people aged 20-64 stepped back, see Figure 2A. The largest decreases were recorded in Greece (-7.7 p.p.), Ireland (-5.9 p.p.) and Spain (-4.8 p.p.). In Austria, Estonia and Italy, the employment rate also changed significantly but to a lesser extent (between -4.0 p.p. and -3.0 p.p.). By contrast, the employment rate in the Netherlands, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Latvia, Denmark and Croatia dropped by less than 1.0 p.p. over the same period.

Looking at Figure 2B, that compares Q4 2019 (the pre-COVID level) to the situation in Q3 2021, it is clearly visible that in most countries, and also at EU level, the employment rate of people aged 20-64 in Q3 2021 exceeded the rate recorded in Q4 2019. At EU level, the employment rate reached 73.6 % in Q3 2021 against 72.9 % in Q4 2019. A positive change was also recorded in 17 EU Member States. The most substantial increases were found in Poland (+3.0 p.p.) and Slovenia (+2.1 p.p.). Important increases, i.e. lower than 2.0 p.p. but higher than 1.0 p.p., were also reported by Luxembourg (+1.9 p.p.), Greece (+1.8 p.p.), the Netherlands (+1.7 p.p.), Romania (+1.6 p.p.), Hungary (+1.4 p.p.), Malta (+1.3 p.p.), Cyprus and Portugal (both with +1.1 p.p.).

However, in Q3 2021, nine countries did not yet recover from the pandemic in terms of employment; their employment rate was still below its pre-COVID level. In particular, Estonia and Latvia had their employment rate 2.2 p.p. and 1.6 p.p. respectively lower than in Q4 2019. Employment in Austria (-0.7 p.p.), Bulgaria and Italy (both with -0.5 p.p.), Sweden and Spain (both with -0.4 p.p.), Slovakia and Czechia (both with -0.1 p.p.) had not yet reached either their pre-COVID level, but the difference between Q4 2019 and Q3 2021 was smaller than 1 p.p.. Lithuania is the only country showing the same employment rate in both quarters.

Record-high employment rate in Q3 2021, except for young people

Looking at the employment rate by age group and by sex, Figure 3 shows significant differences from a category to another. Slightly more than 3 in 10 young people were employed in the EU in the third quarter of 2021 (31.0 % of women and 36.0 % of men aged 15-24). In comparison, more than three quarters of people aged 25-54 were employed (75.6 % of women and 86.2 % of men). For the age group 55-64, 54.9 % of women and 67.4 % of men were employed. It can be seen that the gender employment gap increases with the age, being the largest for the age group 55-64.

With regard to the long-term trend, youth employment as well as employment of men aged 25-54 recorded a downward trend from 2009 to 2013. Employment was more stable for women aged 25-54. All 4 categories started a long upward trend from 2014 to 2019, but then recorded a significant decrease in the second quarter of 2020 (further explained below). From then, the employment rate for these 4 categories increased steadily. For people aged 55-64, the evolution differs substantially as it increased almost constantly from 2009 to 2019, specifically for women. The employment rate decreased in Q2 2020 but not as much as for younger employed people. Both men and women aged 25-54 and 55-64 recorded their highest employment rate, for the whole period since Q1 2009, in Q3 2021 (see Figure 3). More precisely, the largest increase in employment rate on the long-term period from Q1 2009 to Q3 2021 was recorded by the senior age group (55-64); the increase amounted to 20.1 p.p. for women and 15.6 p.p. for men. Over the same period, the employment rate for people aged 25-54 also increased but to a lesser extent: +5.2 p.p. for women and +2.0 p.p. for men. For young people aged 15-24, the employment rate increased by 0.2 p.p. for women and decreased by 0.4 p.p. for men. This statement is further developed in the article on Participation of young people in education and the labour market.

Looking closer at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, young people (aged 15-24) were the most affected in terms of employment. From Q4 2019 to Q2 2020, the employment rate dropped by 3.7 p.p. for young women and by 3.0 p.p. for young men. As a comparison, men and women aged 25-54 recorded a decrease of 2.3 p.p. over the same period, whereas the employment rate went down by 0.6 p.p. for senior women and by 1.1 p.p. for senior men. The younger the people, the more affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, among young people women were more affected than men, while among senior people men were more affected than women.

For the current article, young people refer to people aged 15-24, following the United Nations definition. However, as the age category 15-29 also deserves attention, being the reference in the Year of Youth context, the article Key figures on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the labour market presents the analysis for the age group 15-29.

Concerning the recovery after the COVID-19 crisis, in Q3 2021, the employment rate of young people remained slightly below its level recorded in Q4 2019 (-0.3 p.p. for men and women aged 15-24). By contrast, the employment rate of people aged 25-54 exceeded by 0.8 p.p. for women and by 0.4 p.p. for men the pre-COVID rate. For people aged 55-64, the increase between Q4 2019 and Q3 2021 amounted to 1.9 p.p. for women and 1.5 p.p. for men.

Figure 3: Evolution of employment in the EU by sex and age group, Q1 2009 - Q3 2021 (in % of the total population, seasonally adjusted data)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_q)

Comparing the EU countries, the largest disparities in employment rate were recorded for young people aged 15-24 (see Figure 4). In Denmark (54.5 %), Austria (51.8 %) and Malta (50.7 %), over half of the population aged 15-24 was employed in Q3 2021. This proportion reached even 73.5 % in the Netherlands. In contrast, employed people were less than one-fifth of young people in Italy (17.9 %), Bulgaria (16.2 %) and Greece (14.0 %).

Shifting the focus on the other age groups, Slovenia (89.3 %), Hungary (87.2 %) and the Netherlands (87.1 %) recorded the highest employment rates for people aged 25-54, while Spain (75.7 %), Greece (72.4 %) and Italy (70.6 %) reported the lowest. The employment rate for the seniors (aged 55-64) was the highest in Sweden (76.8 %), Estonia (73.8 %) and Germany (72.8 %), while the lowest rates for this age group were found in Greece (49.4 %), Luxembourg (44.3 %) and Romania (43.5 %).

In all countries the employment rate for people aged 25-54 was higher than for people aged 55-64, which was higher than for people aged 15-24. The Netherlands was an exception with a higher employment rate for young people (aged 15-24) than for senior people.

Figure 4: Employment rate by age group and country, Q3 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_q)

Disparate employment rates for men and women with low, medium and high educational attainment level

The employment evolution by sex and educational attainment level over the period Q1 2009 - Q3 2021 shows noticeable differences, both for men and women (aged 20-64), according to their level of educational attainment (see Figure 5). The employment rate of men with a high educational level (i.e. tertiary education) is always higher than the employment rate of men with a medium (i.e. at most upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education) or low educational level (i.e. less than primary, primary or lower secondary education, at most). This was also the case for women. In the same way, people with a medium educational level are proportionately more employed than people with a low educational level.

Another relevant finding is that the lower the educational attainment level, the wider the gap between the employment rates of men and women. This is true for the whole data series shown in Figure 5. The gender employment gap decreased over the period Q1 2009 - Q3 2021: from 23.2 p.p. to 21.9 p.p. for people with low level of education, from 12.4 p.p. to 11.7 p.p. for people with medium level of education, and from 6.2 p.p. to 5.2 p.p. for those with high level of education.

Figure 5: Employment rate by sex and educational attainment level in the EU, Q1 2009 - Q3 2021
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_educ_q)

After Q4 2019, due to the onset of the COVID-19, the employment rate started a downward trend, reaching its lowest level in Q2 2020. Women with medium level of education (-3.1 p.p.) and men with low level of education (-2.6 p.p.) had the most substantial decreases in employment from Q4 2019 to Q2 2020. Following the significant drop in Q2 2020, the employment rate began to recover. In Q3 2021, some groups had a slightly higher employment rate than in Q4 2019, namely men with low (+0.3 p.p.) and medium level of education (+0.1 p.p.), as well as women with medium (+0.2 p.p.) and high level of education (+0.5 p.p.). At the same time, in Q3 2021, men with high level of education had the same employment rate as in Q4 2019, and women with low level of education had still an employment rate lower than before the pandemic (-0.2 p.p. compared with Q4 2019).

Temporary contracts: mainly for young people

As the employment rate dropped in particular for young people, it can be useful to look at the distribution of temporary contracts among the age groups, as shown in Figure 6. Based on the average of the first three quarters of 2021, 60.1 % of people with temporary contracts are younger than 35 years, while people aged less than 35 years accounted for less than one fourth (24.7 %) of people with permanent contract.

Figure 6: People with temporary and permanent contracts by age group and by sex, EU, average Q1-Q2-Q3 2021
(in % of the total, not seasonally adjusted data)
Source: Eurostat (lfsq_etgaed) and (lfsq_egaed)

Figure 7: Employment by type of contract, age group and by sex, EU, average Q1-Q2-Q3 2021
(in thousands, not seasonally adjusted data)
Source: Eurostat (lfsq_etgaed) and (lfsq_egaed)

In addition, from Figure 7 showing the total employment by type of contract, sex and age group, it can be seen that slightly less than half of young people have a temporary contract. At EU level, 48.9 % and 44.0 % of employed women and men aged 15-24 had a temporary contract in Q3 2021. For people aged 25-34, temporary contracts accounted for 19.0 % of total employment for women and 15.6 % for men, while for the older age groups, less than 1 in 10 employed people had a temporary contract (8.5 % of women and 6.4 % of men aged 35-54, and 5.6 % of women and 4.6 % of men aged 55-64), senior men recording the lowest share of temporary contracts among all categories. In contrast, young women recorded the highest share of temporary contracts.

Even if globally most countries follow the EU pattern, the share of temporary contracts varies a lot from a country to another, especially for people aged 15-24. Figure 8 presents by country the share of temporary contracts in total employment for people aged 15-24 and people aged 25-34.

Temporary contracts accounted for half or more of the total employment of young women aged 15-24 in 10 out of 20 Member States for which data is available. Men aged 15-24 showed a lower share of temporary contracts in total employment compared to women in 18 countries. In the first three quarters of 2021, Slovenia, Spain and the Netherlands showed a very high level of temporary contracts among women aged 15-24, which accounted for more than 60 % of total employment.

As regards people aged 25-34, the female share exceeds the male one in 19 out of 22 EU Member States for which data is available. The share of temporary contracts accounted for more than 30 % of the female employment in Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands (resp. 38.3 %, 31.3 % and 30.6 %) and of the male employment only in Spain (31.5 %). By contrast, temporary contracts accounted for less than 10 % of employment for both men and women in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Ireland.

Figure 8: Temporary contracts by sex for people aged 15-24 and 25-34, average Q1-Q2-Q3 2021
(in % of total employment, not seasonally adjusted data)
Source: Eurostat (lfsq_etgaed) and (lfsq_egaed)

Part-time employment: a female specificity

Based on the first three quarters of 2021, the share of part-time in total employment is the highest among young women, for which it reaches 40.2 % of total employment. The share of part-timers is also high among women aged 55-64, with 32.9 % of women of this age working part-time. Still, more than one fourth of employed women aged 25-54 (27.9 %) do part-time work.

Among men, part-time is somewhat common only for the young ones. One fourth of men aged 15-24 (24.7 %) was working part-time on average in the first three quarters of 2021. By contrast, less than one in 10 men aged 25-54 (6.7 %) and aged 55-64 (8.6 %) are doing part-time work (see Figure 9).

Figure 9:Employment by part-time and full-time, age group and by sex, average Q1-Q2-Q3 2021
(in thousands, not seasonally adjusted data)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_pt_q)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

All figures in this article are based on quarterly results from the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS). Some data are seasonally adjusted.

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 is part of a new system of integrated household surveys. Unfortunately, technical issues and the COVID-19 crisis has had a large impact on data collection processes, resulting in low response rates and a biased sample. For more information, see here. (2) In the Netherlands, the 2021 quarterly 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.

Definitions: The concepts and definitions used in the Labour Force Survey follow the guidelines of the International Labour Organisation.

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.

Seasonally adjustment models: The methodological choices of Eurostat in terms of seasonal adjustment 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 little as possible affected by random variability due to the COVID-19 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 been diagnosed since then in all European Union (EU) Member States. To fight the pandemic, EU Member States took a wide variety of measures. From the second week of March 2020, 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 preventive measures were initially introduced during mid-March 2020. Consequently, the first quarter of 2020 was the first quarter in which the labour market across the EU was affected by COVID-19 measures taken by Member States.

In the following quarters of 2020, as well as 2021, the preventive measures against the pandemic were continuously relaxed and re-enforced in accordance with the number of new cases of the disease. New waves of the pandemic began to appear regularly (e.g. peaks in October-November 2020 and March-April 2021). Furthermore, new strains of the virus with increased transmissibility emerged in late 2020, which additionally alarmed the health authorities. Nonetheless, as massive vaccination campaigns started all around the world in 2021, people began to anticipate improvement of the situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The quarterly data on employment allows regular reporting of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis on employment. This specific article depicts employment in general and specifically by gender, age and level of educational attainment; it moreover provides results on the temporary contracts and part-time work. Another article focuses on employed people and job starters by sector of economic activity and occupation.

Please note that in this exceptional context of the COVID-19 pandemic, employment and unemployment as defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are 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. Only referring to unemployment might consequently underestimate the entire unmet demand for employment, also called the labour market slack, which is further analysed, with namely the evolution of the total volume of working hours, in the publication Labour market in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Employment - LFS adjusted series (t_lfsi_emp)
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Unemployment - LFS adjusted series (une)
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