Employment statistics

Data from June 2017

Planned article update: November 2018


In 2016, the EU employment rate for persons aged 20 to 64 stood at 71.1 %, the highest rate ever recorded for the EU.

Just under one third (31.4 %) of women aged 20-64 in the EU in 2016 worked part time, much higher than for men (8.2 %).

In 2016, the proportion of employees aged 15-74 in the EU with a contract of limited duration was 14.2 %.

Employment rate by sex, age group 20-64, 2007-2016 (%)

This article presents recent European Union (EU) employment statistics, including an analysis based on socioeconomic dimensions: employment statistics show considerable differences by sex, age and educational level attained. There are also considerable labour market disparities across EU Member States.

Labour market statistics are at the heart of many EU policies following the introduction of an employment chapter into the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997. The employment rate, in other words the proportion of the working age population that is in employment, is considered to be a key social indicator for analytical purposes when studying developments within labour markets.

Full article

Employment rates by sex, age and educational attainment level

In 2016, the EU-28 employment rate for persons aged 20 to 64, as measured by the EU labour force survey (EU LFS), stood at 71.1 %, the highest annual average ever recorded for the EU. Behind this average large differences between countries can nevertheless be found (see Map 1). The only Member State with a rate above 80 % is Sweden (81.2 %). This is also the case for the EFTA states Iceland (87.8 %) and Switzerland (83.3 %).

Map 1: Employment rate, age group 20-64, 2016
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

The group of countries with rates in the 70s includes the United Kingdom, France and Germany. It is centred on a zone which goes from Ireland in the west to Hungary in the east, also including the three Baltic states, Finland and Portugal. Countries with rates in the 60s form two clusters: one western-Mediterranean / Adriatic (Spain, Italy and Croatia) and the other at the eastern border of the EU, going from the south end of the Baltic Sea to the south-western end of the Black Sea (Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria). Additionally, this group of countries also includes Belgium. Finally, we find a southern Balkan / Caucasus group with rates below 60 % (the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Greece and Turkey).

Figure 1 shows the development of the employment rate for men and women since 1993. One of the most visible characteristic is the decreased employment rate gap between them. In most cases, this results from increasing employment rates among women (for instance Spain and the Netherlands) but there are cases where the smaller gap mostly comes from decreased employment rates among men (Greece and Cyprus). Also in a group of countries the development of the employment rates of men and women mirror each other, creating a stable employment rate gender gap. This is the situation for instance in the Czech Republic (a gap of 19.1 percentage points (pp) in 1998 and of 16.0 pp in 2016) and in Sweden (2.9 pp in 1996 and 3.8 pp in 2016). Employment rates are lower among women than among men in all years in all countries, with two exceptions: Latvia and Lithuania in 2010, after a sharp drop in rates among men, and a much more modest rate drop among women.

Figure 1: Employment rate by sex, age group 20-64, 1993-2016
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

Figure 1 also shows that the countries have experienced very different labour market situations over the time period Eurostat has data for. The largest group of countries has had a gentle, stable increase in the employment rate (Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Turkey). Others have remained on a quite flat trajectory, in other words a stable rate (Denmark, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Norway and Switzerland). Another sizable group has seen important ups and downs, but with a higher rate in 2016 than at their various starting points (Bulgaria, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland).

Figure 2 clearly shows that for the EU-28 the employment rate among the persons aged 25-54 years has stayed practically the same since 2001, whereas it has increased very markedly for older persons (55-64 years) and has decreased for younger persons (15-24 years).

Figure 2: Employment rate by age group, 1993-2016
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a)

Employment rates also vary considerably according to the level of educational attainment (see Figure 3). The rates analysed by level of educational attainment are based on the age group 25 to 64, as younger persons may still be in education, particularly in tertiary education, and this may be reflected in the employment rates. The employment rate of persons aged 25-64 who had completed a tertiary (short-cycle tertiary, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral levels (or equivalents)) education was 84.8 % across the EU-28 in 2016, much higher than the rate (54.3 %) for those who had attained no more than a primary or lower secondary education. The EU-28 employment rate of persons with at most an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education was 74.8 %. In addition to already having the lowest probability of finding a job (among these education level groups), persons who at most have a lower secondary education were also hit hardest by the crisis: the employment rate in this group fell 5.1 percentage points between 2007 and 2013, whereas the corresponding number for those with a medium level education was 1.7 pp., and for those with high education 1.8 pp. Figure 3 demonstrates that the importance of having at least a medium level education for the chance of finding a job is substantial in Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia, but less so in Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Cyprus and Luxembourg.

Figure 3: Employment rate by educational attainment level, age group 25-64, 1993-2016
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_ergaed)

Part-time work: slight decrease in 2016

The proportion of the EU-28 workforce in the age group 20-64 years reporting that their main job was part-time increased slowly but steadily from 14.9 % in 2002 to 19.0 % in 2015, and then fell marginally to 18.9 % in 2016. By far the highest proportion of part-time workers in 2016 was found in the Netherlands (46.6 %), followed by Austria, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark and Ireland, where part-time work accounted in each case for more than a fifth of those in employment. By contrast, part-time employment was relatively uncommon in Bulgaria (1.9 % of those in employment) as well as Hungary, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia (between 4.8 % and 5.7 %) — see Figure 4.

Figure 4: Part-time employment as percentage of the total employment, by sex, age group 20-64, 1993-2016
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_eppga)

The incidence of part-time work (see Data sources and availability for definition) differs significantly between men and women. Just under one third (31.4 %) of women aged 20-64 who were employed in the EU-28 worked on a part-time basis in 2016, a much higher proportion than the corresponding share for men (8.2 %). Close to three quarters (74.8 %) of women employed in the Netherlands worked on a part-time basis in 2016, by far the highest rate among the EU Member States. Part-time work has increased distinctly between 1993 and 2016 in Germany, Ireland, Italy and Austria, whereas it has decreased markedly in Iceland.

Persons with more than one job

Figure 5 shows that the share of people having more than one job is small and that persons with a higher education are more likely to have a second job than persons with medium level or low level education. For the EU-28 this situation has been very stable for all the years we have data for (2002-2016), at about 5 % of the highly educated and at around 3 % for the other two education groups. The highest level recorded among the Member States is 16.3 % (highly educated persons in Poland in 2000) and the lowest is 0.3 % (medium level education, Bulgaria, 2010-2016). Other countries where it is somewhat usual to have a second job are Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Iceland and Norway.

Figure 5: Persons in employment who have a second job, by educational attainment level, age group 15-74, 1993-2016
(% of total employment)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_e2ged) and (lfsa_egaed)

Occupations: services and sales dominate

The clearly largest group of occupations in the EU-28 in 2016 is personal services and sales employees, at 9.5 % of the work force, or 21.4 million persons (see Figure 6). They outnumber the eight smallest occurring occupation groups taken together, which among others includes all agricultural employees, food processing workers, and members of the armed forces. Following the service and sales group, we find clerks, followed again by business and administrative associate professionals.

Figure 6: Persons in employment by occupation, age group 15-74, EU-28, 2016
(% of total employment)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_esegp)

Fixed term contracts

In 2016, the proportion of employees aged 15-74 in the EU-28 with a contract of limited duration (fixed-term employment) was 14.2 %. More than one in five employees in Poland (27.5 %), Spain (26.3 %), Croatia, Portugal (both at 22.3 %) and the Netherlands (20.8 %) had a temporary contract (see Figure 7). Among the remaining EU-28 Member States, the share of employees working on a contract of limited duration ranged from 71.0 % in Slovenia down to 1.4 % in Romania. In addition to differences between countries, a pattern for differences between occupations exist. For most of the countries the managers are the least likely to have limited duration contracts, and the lower status employees are the most likely to have it. However, the levels differ markedly: 44.1 % of the lower status employees in Poland are in this situation whereas the corresponding number for Romania is only 3.2 %. The considerable range in the propensity to use limited duration contracts between EU Member States may, at least to some degree, reflect national practices, the supply and demand of labour, employer assessments regarding potential growth/contraction and the ease with which employers can hire and fire.

Figure 7: Proportion of employees who have limited duration contracts, by occupational group, age group 15-74, 2016
(% of occupational group)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_esegt)

Data sources


The economically active population (labour force) comprises employed and unemployed persons. The EU LFS defines persons in employment as those aged 15 and over, who, during the reference week, performed some work, even for just one hour per week, for pay, profit or family gain. The labour force also includes people who were not at work but had a job or business from which they were temporarily absent, for example, because of illness, holidays, industrial disputes, education or 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, although the age range of 16 to 64 is used in Spain and the United Kingdom, as well as in Iceland. 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).

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;
  • indicators for employed persons with a second job refer only to people with more than one job at the same time; people having changed job during the reference week are not counted as having two jobs;
  • 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.


Most of the indicators presented in this article are from datasets that form part of the labour force survey main indicators (datasets starting with the letters lfsi). These main indicators differ from the datasets with the detailed annual and quarterly survey results (datasets starting with the letters lfsa and lfsq) in that the detailed survey results are exclusively based on microdata from the labour force survey, whereas the main indicators have received additional treatment. The most common additional adjustments are corrections of the main breaks in the series and estimations of missing values. These adjustments produce notable differences between the two data sets for some years.

The datasets of the labour force survey main indicators are the most complete and reliable collection of employment and unemployment data available from the labour force survey. However, as they do not offer analysis of all background variables, it is in some cases necessary to use the detailed survey results as well, as is done in this article for the data in Table 3 and part of Table 4.

Source data for tables and graphs


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 implementation of the strategy might be achieved, at least in part, through the promotion of flexible working conditions — for example, part-time work or work from home — which are thought to stimulate labour participation. Among others, initiatives that may encourage more people to enter the labour market include improvements in the availability of childcare facilities, providing more opportunities for lifelong learning, or facilitating job mobility. Central to this theme is the issue of ‘flexicurity’: policies that simultaneously address the flexibility of labour markets, work organisation and labour relations, while taking into account the reconciliation of work and private life, employment security and social protection. In line with the Europe 2020 strategy, the EES encourages measures to help meet three headline targets by 2020, namely, for:

  • 75 % of people aged 20 to 64 to be in work;
  • rates of early school leaving to reduce below 10 %, and for at least 40 % of 30 to 34-year-olds to have completed a tertiary education;
  • at least 20 million fewer people to be in or at-risk-of-poverty and social exclusion.

The slow pace of recovery from the financial and economic crisis and mounting evidence of rising unemployment led the European Commission to make a set of proposals on 18 April 2012 for measures to boost jobs through a dedicated employment package. These proposals, among others, targeted the demand-side of job creation, setting out ways for EU Member States to encourage hiring by reducing taxes on labour or supporting business start-ups. The proposals also aimed to identify economic areas with the potential for considerable job creation, such as the green economy, health services and information and communications technology.

In December 2012, in the face of high and still rising youth unemployment in several EU Member States, the European Commission proposed a Youth employment package (COM(2012) 727 final). This package was a follow-up to the actions on youth laid out in the wider employment package and made a range of proposals, including:

  • that all young people up to the age of 25 should receive a quality offer of a job, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed (a youth guarantee);
  • a consultation of European social partners on a quality framework for traineeships to enable young people to acquire high-quality work experience under safe conditions;
  • a European alliance for apprenticeships to improve the quality and supply of apprenticeships available and outlining ways to reduce obstacles to mobility for young people.

Efforts to reduce youth unemployment continued in 2013 as the European Commission presented a Youth employment initiative (COM(2013) 144 final) designed to reinforce and accelerate measures outlined in the Youth employment package. It aimed to support, in particular, young people not in education, employment or training in regions with a youth unemployment rate above 25 %. There followed another Communication titled ‘Working together for Europe's young people – A call to action on youth unemployment' (COM(2013) 447 final) which was designed to accelerate the implementation of the youth guarantee and provide help to EU Member States and businesses so they may recruit more young people.

One of the main priorities of the College of Commissioners that entered into office in 2014 is to focus on boosting jobs, growth and investment, with the goal of cutting regulation, making smarter use of existing financial resources and public funds. In February 2015, the European Commission published a series of country reports, analysing the economic policies of EU Member States and providing information on EU Member States priorities for the coming year to boost growth and job creation. In the same month, the European Commission also proposed to make EUR 1 billion from the Youth employment initiative available in 2015 so as to increase by up to 30 times the pre-financing EU Member States could receive to boost youth employment rates, with the aim of helping up to 650 000 young people into work.

In June 2016, the European Commission adopted a Skills Agenda for Europe (COM(2016) 381/2) under the heading ‘Working together to strengthen human capital, employability and competitiveness’. This is intended to ensure that people develop the skills necessary for now and the future, in order to boost employability, competitiveness and growth across the EU.

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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)
2014. Migration and labour market (lfso_14)
2013. Accidents at work and other work-related health problems (lfso_13)
2012. Transition from work to retirement (lfso_12)
2011. Access to labour markets for disabled people (lfso_12)
2010. Reconciliation between work and family life (lfso_10)
2009. Entry of young people into the labour market (lfso_09)
2008. Labour market situation of migrants (lfso_08)
2007. Work related accidents, health problems and hazardous exposure (lfs_07)
2006. Transition from work into retirement (lfso_06)
2005. Reconciliation between work and family life (lfso_05)
2004. Work organisation and working time arrangements (lfso_04)
2003. Lifelong learning (lfso_03)
2002. Employment of disabled persons (lfso_02)
2000. Transition from school to working life (lfso_00)