Employment in detail - quarterly statistics
Data extracted in January 2021
Planned article update: April 2021
In most EU Member States, businesses as well as the public sector have been shaken by the worldwide crisis resulting from the lock-down and other health related measures taken to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. To a certain extent, containment measures (such as extended short-time work schemes and guaranteed loans) have been settled down in order to dampen the impact on employment. Enterprises may have slowed down, revised or cancelled their hiring process, also affecting temporary contracts, more frequent among young people. Financial difficulties faced by enterprises might also affect more broadly the labour market. The third quarter of 2020 coincides with the progressive withdrawal of strict containment measures in most EU Member States, and a relative rebound of the activity.
The present article complements the article on employment by giving a more detailed analysis of the evolution of the employed population by occupation, sector of economic activity, age, level of education completed and professional status. Both articles use the quarterly results of the European Union Labour Force Survey (LFS) and are part of the publication Labour market in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current version of these articles focuses on the third quarter of 2020. In April, they will be reviewed in order to include data on the fourth quarter of 2020.
Note: Given the level of detail, data used in this article are not seasonally adjusted. For this reason (in order not to be biased by the seasonal effect), data from the last available quarter (third quarter 2020) are compared with data from the same quarter of the previous year (third quarter 2019). 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)).
Evolution of the employment rate by age group
In the third quarter of 2020 (Q3 2020), the share of employed people in the total population (aged 15-64), commonly referred to as the employment rate, ranged from 77.6 % in the Netherlands, 76.0 % in Sweden and 74.4 % in Czechia and Denmark to 60.8 % in Spain, 58.0 % in Italy and 57.0 % in Greece. Fourteen of the 26 EU Member States with available data for Q3 2020 (i.e. all EU Member States except Germany) showed an employment rate lower than 70.0 % (see Figure 1).
Between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020, the employment rate of people aged 15-64 decreased in 23 out of 26 EU Member States. It slightly increased in Malta (+0.3 percentage points (p.p.)) and in Poland (+0.1 p.p.). and remained stable in Croatia. The decrease was substantial with a loss exceeding 2.0 p.p. in Estonia and Spain (-2.7 p.p. for both), Lithuania (-2.5 p.p.), Portugal (-2.2 p.p.) and Sweden (-2.1 p.p.) (see Figure 2). However, behind these figures a great variation in the employment rate, as well as in its development, is observed according to the age of employed people.
Drop in the employment rate of young people in all EU countries between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020, falling by 5 p.p. or more in seven Member States
Focusing on young people (aged 15-24 years), slightly less than one third (31.8 %) in the EU-27 were employed in Q3 2020. The Netherlands recorded the highest rate with more than six out of ten young Dutch people employed in Q3 2020 (62.1 %), followed by Denmark (53.9 %), Austria (52.7 %) and Malta (51.1 %), where around half of young people were employed. By contrast, less than two out of ten young people were employed in Spain (19.1 %), Italy (17.5 %) and Greece (14.7 %) in Q3 2020.
Over the last year, comparing Q3 2020 with Q3 2019, employment of young people decreased in all 26 EU Member States for which data are available. It dropped by -5.0 p.p. or more in Lithuania (-7.2 p.p.), Portugal (-7.0 p.p.), Slovenia and Estonia (-6.7 p.p. for both), Sweden (-6.6 p.p.), Spain (-5.2 p.p.) and Poland (-5.0 p.p.).
Cut in employment for people aged 25-54 visible in almost all EU Member States, rise for people aged 55-64
Between the third quarter of 2019 and the same quarter of 2020, the employment rate of people in the middle age group (25-54) decreased in all EU Member States for which data are available, apart from Poland (+0.2 p.p.) and Malta (no difference). However, the drop for the middle age group is smaller than for young people in most countries. Three EU Member States reported a decrease in their employment rate for the middle age group bigger than 2 p.p., namely Spain (-2.9 p.p.), Lithuania (-2.8 p.p.) and Estonia (-2.1 p.p.). These three decreases are also less sharp than those observed for young people in these countries.
The share of employed people aged 55-64 in the total population of the same age increased unexpectedly in the majority of countries, namely in 21 EU Member States, between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020. Nevertheless, the employment rate decreased by -1.6 p.p in Estonia, which corresponds to the largest decline. Denmark, Italy, Finland and Bulgaria registered smaller decreases, ranging from -0.5 p.p. to -0.1 p.p. By contrast, growths of more than 2 p.p. were reported by Malta (+3.9 p.p.), Hungary (+3.4 p.p.), Croatia (+3.2 p.p.), Poland (+2.5 p.p.), Slovakia (+2.2 p.p.) and Greece (+2.1 p.p.).
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic downturn seems to have had, in the first stage, concrete and short-term consequences such as withdrawing vacancies, not hiring people at the end of the probationary period or not renewing temporary contracts. These situations are more likely to be found among young people, who can therefore have been more impacted soon after the beginning of the health crisis (see the article on employment for further information on this topic). Senior workers more secure in their jobs might potentially suffer in a later stage, in the context of potential mass dismissals.
Relationship between education and employment
The higher the level of educational attainment, the higher the employment rate
The following pattern can be observed in all countries with Q3 2020 data available, although to a different extent: the employment rate of people aged between 15 and 64 who attained a high level of education (i.e. tertiary education) is higher than the employment rate of those who attained a medium (i.e. at most upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education) or low (i.e. less than primary, primary or lower secondary education, at most) educational level. In the same way, people with a medium level of education accounted proportionately for more employed people than people with a low level of education (see Figure 3).
In Slovenia, Romania, Lithuania, Denmark, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Malta, Bulgaria, Latvia, Finland and Hungary, almost nine in ten persons aged 15-64 who attained a high level of education were employed. All these countries showed employment rates for the high education level above 85 % in Q3 2020. In contrast, Greece, Italy, Spain and Slovakia recorded the lowest employment rates for people with a high educational attainment level, with less than 80 % being employed (74.2 % in Greece, 76.3 % in Italy, 77.5 % in Spain and 79.5 % in Slovakia) in Q3 2020.
With respect to people who had attained a medium education level, less than two thirds were employed in Q3 2020 in Greece (55.5 %), Spain (57.4 %), Italy (62.9 %), France (64.6 %), Croatia (65.0 %), Luxembourg (65.3 %) and Belgium (65.9 %). By contrast, around 80 % of the population with a medium educational attainment level were employed in Sweden (81.8 %), Czechia (79.7 %) and the Netherlands (79.0 %), followed closely by Denmark and Malta (with both 78.6 %).
Moreover, more than half of those aged 15-64 with a low educational attainment level were employed in Q3 2020 in Denmark (55.2 %), the Netherlands (59.8 %), Malta (60.2 %) and Portugal (60.6 %) but less than 30% were employed in Slovenia (29.6 %), Czechia (28.6 %), Croatia (27.7 %), Poland (25.0 %), Lithuania (22.9 %) and Slovakia (18.3 %).
The shares of employed people with a low education level were much lower than the shares of those with a medium and high educational attainment level in the vast majority of countries. In Slovakia and Czechia, the gap in the employment rate between people with a medium level of education and a low level of education reached more than 50 p.p.: in Slovakia 18.3 % of people with a low level of education were employed against 72.8 % of people with a medium level of education; in Czechia, the shares were 28.6 % and 79.7 % respectively.
In terms of development over the one-year period Q3 2019 - Q3 2020, the employment rate decreased in 21 out of 26 EU Member States for people with a low level of education, in 24 EU Member States for people with a medium level of education and in 18 EU Member States for people with a high level of education (see Figure 4). Moreover, decreases in the employment rate sharper than 2 p.p. were reported by 10 EU Member States for the low and medium educational attainment level, and only by two EU countries for the high education level.
As shown in the visual at the top of the article, the differences in the employment rates of men and women aged 20-64 are more or less wide according to the educational attainment level: the lower the educational attainment level, the wider is the gender employment gap. Indeed, in Q3 2020, the proportion of employed men with a high educational attainment level stood for 86.9 % of the total population against 80.6 % for women of the same category of education, corresponding to a gender gap of 6.3 p.p. For people with a medium level of educational attainment, the gender gap was twice as big, reaching 12.6 p.p.: 78.5 % of men and 65.9 % of women being employed in this category. The gender gap among people with a low educational level was the widest recorded from the three categories and amounted to 22.4 p.p.: almost two thirds of men with a low educational attainment level (65.9 %) were employed against less than half women (43.5 %) with a low educational attainment level. Compared with the third quarter of 2019, the gender employment gap slightly narrowed for people with a high educational attainment level (-0.4 p.p.), was stable for people with a low educational attainment level, while the gender employment gap widened moderately for people with a medium educational attainment level (+0.2 p.p.).
Focus on the employment development of young people with low, medium and high levels of educational attainment
Figure 5 presents the specific development of the employment rates by age and by education level between the third quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of 2020 at EU level. It shows that the level of employment in terms of proportion in the population decreased for the age groups 15-24 and 25-54 for each of the educational attainment level, although to a different extent and increased for those aged 55-64 also for all educational categories. To complement, Figure 6 shows the number of EU Member States that recorded a decrease or an increase in the employment rate of young people (15-24 years), middle-aged (25-54 years) and senior persons (55-54 years) in relation to the educational attainment level.
At EU level, the proportion of young employed people with a medium educational attainment level recorded the largest decrease among all subgroups crossed by age and educational attainment level, going down from 45.7 % to 42.0 % (-3.7 p.p.), followed by the proportion of young people with a high level of educational attainment, which fell from 55.8 % to 52.4 % (-3.4 p.p.) (Q3 2019 versus Q3 2020). The decrease in the employment rate of people aged 15-24 with a low educational attainment level was slighter, going from 19.7 % in Q3 2019 to 17.6 % in Q3 2020 (-2.1 p.p.).
The employment rate of the middle-age group (25-54 years) with a low level and a medium level of educational attainment dropped in a quite similar way from 63.3 % in Q3 2019 to 61.9 % in Q3 2020 (-1.4 p.p.) and from 82.4 % to 81.1 % (-1.3 p.p.) respectively. On the other hand, the share of employed people aged 25-54 with a high educational level decreased by -0.9 p.p., reaching 87.3 % in Q3 2020.
Employment rates of senior employed persons (aged 55-64) with a low, medium and high educational attainment remained relatively stable between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020.
The employment rate of young people who attained a medium level of education decreased in 24 out of 26 EU countries. The majority of them (17 countries) recorded a decline of more than 2 p.p. between the third quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of 2020. Detailed figures can be found here. Fewer countries reported such a decrease in the employment rate for young people with a high or low level of educational attainment (Q3 2020 compared with Q3 2019). Cuts exceeding 2 p.p. were nevertheless found in 16 countries for young people with a high educational attainment level and in 11 countries for young people with a low level. In fact, more countries (9 out of 26) registered a decrease smaller than 2 p.p. for young people with a low level of education than for people with a medium (7 out of 26) or high level of education (4 out of 26) (see Figure 5).
As regards the middle-age group, most countries reported decreases in the employment rate regardless of the educational category, but with slighter drops than those observed for young people. Indeed, ten countries registered a decrease exceeding 2 p.p. in the employment rate of people aged 25-54 with low educational level as well as with medium educational level. Two EU countries reported decreases above 2 p.p. for people aged 25-54 with a high level of education.
In addition, less than half of EU Member States recorded decreases between the third quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of 2020 for people aged 55-64 irrespective the level of education.
Volatility in employment according to professional status
In the third quarter of 2020, the majority of people in employment aged 20-64 (85.6 %) were employees in the EU (see Figure 7). The highest share of employees in total employment can be found in Denmark with 91.8 %, followed by Sweden (91.2 %) and Luxembourg (90.5 %). In Germany, for which Q3 2020 data is not available, employees accounted for 91.1 % of employed people in Q3 2019. The lowest shares of employees in Q3 2020 were reported by Poland (79.8 %), Italy (78.9 %), Romania (78.5 %) and Greece (69.7 %), where less than eight out of ten employed people were employees.
The remaining employed people are mainly self-employed. Poland (18.1 % of self-employed in total employment), Italy (20.0 %) and Greece (27.4 %) recorded the highest shares of self-employed persons in Q3 2020. Moreover, the lowest shares of self-employed were found in Luxembourg (7.9 %), Denmark (8.0 %) and Sweden (8.7 %).
The last category of employed people consists of contributing family workers. This professional status is relatively marginal in the overwhelming majority of the EU Member States. However, in some countries, contributing family workers accounted for more than 1 % of the total employment in Q3 2020: Romania (6.3 %), Greece (2.9 %), Poland (2.1 %), Luxembourg (1.4 %) and Italy (1.2 %).
Looking at the evolution between the third quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of 2020, the growth rate of employees fluctuated between a decrease of -4.3 % in Bulgaria and an increase of +1.5 % in Slovenia. However, cuts of more than -3 % in the number of employees were also recorded in Spain (-3.9 %), Estonia (-3.4 %) and Lithuania (-3.3 %) (see Figure 8).
On the other hand, the volatility of self-employed persons seemed to be relatively high over the same period. The number of self-employed persons changed by more than 3 % in eight countries. The sharpest decreases in the number of people with this professional status were noticed in Slovenia (-13.0 %), Latvia (-7.5 %), Slovakia (-5.6 %), Sweden (-5.5 %) and Portugal (-5.2 %). By contrast, the number of self-employed persons was more substantial in Q3 2020 compared with Q3 2019 in Luxembourg (+11.4 %), Hungary (+10.3 %), Denmark and Belgium (+5.2 % for both). Please note that this high volatility can be explained by a low number of self-employed in some countries, mostly in small countries, which might emphasize the changes.
Developments by type of occupation
The distribution of employment by occupational group at EU level is displayed in Figure 9. It shows that the biggest occupational group of employed people consisted of professionals, accounting for 20.3 % of the total employment. This category encompasses people working as professionals in various domains: science and engineering, health, teaching, business and administration, information and communications technology and finally, in legal, social and cultural fields, and generally with a high skill level (for further information see the ISCO-08 structure). Moreover, around one in six employed persons reported an occupation as a technician or associate professional (16.1 %). Service and sales workers represented a similar share (15.8 %) of employed people.
The vast majority of countries with fewer plant and machine operators and assemblers, elementary occupations or service and sales workers in Q3 2020 compared with Q3 2019
Between the third quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of 2020, at EU level, the number of employed people in elementary occupations decreased by -8.9 % (see Figure 10). The elementary occupations involve the performance of simple and routine tasks which may require the use of hand-held tools and considerable physical effort, elementary workers are employed as cleaners and helpers; agricultural, forestry and fishery workers; those employed in mining, construction, manufacturing and transport; food preparation assistants; street and related sales and services workers or refuse workers and other elementary workers. The decrease in the number of people with elementary occupations was followed by the drop in the number of service and sales workers (-6.7 %), plant and machine operators and assemblers (-5.7 %) and managers (-5.1 %). Nevertheless, for the group of professionals and the group of clerical support workers, the development in the number of employed people was positive and increased by more than 1 % (+4.7 % and +1.5 % respectively). The category of clerical support workers encompasses general and keyboard clerks, customer services clerks, numerical and material recording clerks and other clerical support workers. Moreover, it may be interesting to note that the decrease in the number of elementary workers is mainly due to the decrease observed in the following activities: accommodation and food service activities (I), manufacturing activities, administrative and support service activities (N) and to a lesser extent, the category wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (G), which explained all together more than half of the decrease. By contrast, the growth in the number of professionals is essentially explained by the increase of this category in the following sectors of activity (from the larger to the smaller weight in the increase): Education (P); Information-communication/Financial and insurance/Real estate activities (J-L); Human health and social work activities (Q), Public administration and defence; compulsory social security (O) and Manufacturing (C).
The number of plant and machine operators and assemblers, elementary workers and service and sales workers dropped in an overwhelming majority of EU countries for which data are available: in 25 out of 26 countries for the plant and machine operators and assemblers and in 24 countries for the two other aforementioned categories (see Figure 11). The decline in the number of employed people exceeded 10 % in five countries for the plant and machine operators and assemblers as well as for people employed in elementary occupations, and in two countries for service and sales workers (detailed figures can be found here).
Other strongly impacted occupational categories are the craft and related trades workers whose employment decreased in 18 EU Member States, but only one registered a decrease sharper than 10 % (i.e. Latvia). The category of craft and related trades workers includes building and related trades workers (excluding electricians); metal, machinery and related trades workers; handicraft and printing workers; electrical and electronic trades workers; food processing, wood working, garment and other craft and related trades workers. At the other end of the scale, there were more people employed as professionals in the third quarter of 2020 than in the third quarter of 2019 in 23 EU Member States. Finally, the number of technicians and associate professionals increased by less than 10% in 14 EU countries and decreased in 12 EU countries.
Developments by type of activity
As regards the lines of business, the overview of the situation in the third quarter of 2020 shows that the following five categories together cover more than half (55.1 %) of the total EU employment: (1) Manufacturing (NACE C) (16.3 % of the total EU employment), (2) wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (13.5 %), (3) human health and social work activities (10.9 %), (4) public administration and defence; compulsory social security (7.3 %) and (5) education (7.1 %) (see Figure 12).
Among all activities, some registered sharp declines in terms of employment between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020 at EU level (see Figure 13). The employment decreased by more than 5 % in the following activities: accommodation and food service activities (-15.5 %); administrative and support service activities (-10.4 %), arts, entertainment and recreation (-5.5 %) and transportation and storage (-5.3 %). However, growths above 5 % in the number of employed people were registered over this one-year period in the activities of Public administration and defence; compulsory social security (+6.1%), Information-communication/Financial and insurance/Real estate activities (J-L) (+6.6 %) and Other service activities (+8.6 %) which encompasses activities of membership organisations, repair of computers and personal and household goods and other personal service activities like washing and (dry-)cleaning of textile and fur products, hairdressing and other beauty treatment, funeral and related activities, physical well-being activities and other personal service activities n.e.c.
Comparing Q3 2020 with Q3 2019, and still based on 26 EU Member States for which data are available, all countries registered a drop in accommodation and food service activities (see Figure 14). The fall in employment corresponded to a decrease of more than 10 % in 22 EU countries. The second and third most largely impacted categories among EU Member States relate to administrative and support service activities and the activities referring to the NACE category transportation and storage. Both declined in 22 out of 26 EU Member States (from which six and three countries reported decreases above 10% for the administrative and support service activities and the transportation and storage activities, respectively). Manufacturing decreased in terms of employment in 20 out of 26 countries, and in 19 by less than 10%. By contrast, the number of workers rose in more than half of the countries for the "other service activities", for which an increase was reported by 14 countries, and for the professional, scientific and technical activities, for which a growth was reported by 15 countries. Also, employment in information-communication/financial and insurance/real estate activities (J-L) rose in 19 EU Member States (from which eight reported increases higher than 10%) and employment in the public administration and defence; compulsory social security grew in 20 EU Member States (from which three reported increases higher than 10%).
All detailed figures are available here
Source data for tables and graphs
All figures in this article are based on detailed quarterly survey results from the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS).
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: In Germany, from the first quarter of 2020 onwards, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) 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 this reason, additional data from other integrated household surveys has been used in addition to the LFS subsample, to estimate a restricted set of indicators for the first three quarters of 2020, for the production of LFS Main Indicators. These estimates have been used for the publication of German results, but also in 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.
Definitions: The concepts and definitions used in the Labour Force Survey follow the guidelines of the International Labour Organisation.
Five different articles on detailed technical and methodological information are linked from the overview page of the online publication EU Labour Force Survey.
The COVID-19 health crisis hit Europe in January and February 2020, with the first cases confirmed in Spain, France and Italy. COVID-19 infections have now 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 apart from supermarkets, pharmacies and banks. Bars, restaurants and hotels have also been closed. In Italy and Spain, non-essential production was stopped and several countries imposed regional or even national lock-down measures which further stifled the 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 50) were banned in most Member States.
The large majority of the prevention measures were taken during mid-March 2020 and most of the prevention measures and restrictions were kept for the whole of April and May 2020. The second quarter of 2020 is consequently the first quarter in which the labour market across the EU has been affected by COVID-19 measures taken by the 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 this first phase of the crisis, active measures to contain employment losses led to absences from work rather than dismissals, and individuals could not search for work or were not available due to the containment measures, thus not counting as unemployed.
The quarterly data on employment will allow along the quarters to report on the impact of the economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic on employment. This specific article details the evolution of the employed population by occupation, sector of economic activity, age, attained level of education and professional status. It complements the article focusing on the age and the level of educational attainment of employed people in order to determine potential categories more or less affected by the economic downturn. Both articles are part 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 and Europe 2020 national targets
- 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)