Statistics Explained

Enlargement countries - labour market statistics

Data extracted in April 2022.

Planned article update: May 2023.


In 2020, employment rates for women were below 50 % in five of the candidate countries and potential candidates: North Macedonia (49.0 %), Montenegro (48.8 %), Bosnia and Herzegovina (40.0 %), Turkey (32.0 %) and Kosovo (16.0 %). In the EU, the rate was 66.1 %.

In Albania, 36.1 % of the labour force were working in agriculture, forestry and fishing in 2020. In the EU, the share was 4.3 %.

In 2020, among the candidate countries and potential candidates, self-employed and family workers ranged between 17.2 % in North Macedonia and 53.9 % in Albania, whereas it was 14.3 % in the EU.


Activity rates of persons aged 20-64 years, 2010-2020

This article is part of an online publication and provides information on a range of labour market statistics for the European Union (EU) candidate countries and potential candidate, in other words the enlargement countries. Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Turkey currently have candidate status, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo* are potential candidates.

The article provides an overview of the labour force characteristics, covering indicators such as activity rates, employment rates, and unemployment rates, as well as an analysis of the workforce by economic activity.

Full article

Activity rates

The economically active population, also known as the labour force, comprises employed and unemployed persons. 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. The activity rate is the proportion of the population who are economically active.

Figure 1 presents, for the candidate countries and potential candidates as well as for the EU, the proportion of the economically active population aged 20-64 for 2010 and 2020, disaggregated to show the activity rates for men and women.

Figure 1: Activity rates of persons aged 20-64 years, by gender, 2010 and 2020
(% of total population)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a) and Eurostat data collection

Activity rates in most of the candidate countries and potential candidates (Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina) increased from 2010 to 2020 both for men and women. The remaining candidate countries and potential candidates recorded a decrease of the activity rate for men: North Macedonia, -2.5 percentage points (pp), Kosovo, -1.3 pp (between 2012 and 2020) and Turkey, -1.1 pp. Activity rates for women were lower than in the EU both in 2010 and 2020; this also was true for men, except in 2020 for Albania (1.1 pp higher than in the EU) and in 2010 for North Macedonia (3.7 pp higher than in the EU). Activity rates increased more for women than for men between 2010 and 2020 throughout the region, as in the EU, so that the gender gap declined everywhere.

Activity rates for women in the candidate countries and potential candidates were highest in 2020 in Albania, at 66.9 %; Serbia, at 63.5 %; Montenegro, at 59.9 %; and in North Macedonia, at 58.2 %. Women aged 20-64 who were either working or available for work accounted for 49.1 % of the labour force in Bosnia and Herzegovina; 37.5 % in Turkey and 23.1 % in Kosovo. The EU women activity rate in 2020 was 71.4 %.

Activity rates for men in some of the candidate countries and potential candidates in 2020 were at similar levels to the 82.8 % recorded in the EU. In Albania and North Macedonia, the activity rates for men were 83.9 % and 82.5 %, respectively. Turkey, at 79.8 % and Serbia, at 79.0 %, were not far behind. Men activity rates were lower in Bosnia and Herzegovina at 75.4 %, in Montenegro at 74.6 %, and in Kosovo, at 63.0 %.

A comparison between activity rates for men and women in 2020 across the candidate countries and potential candidates shows that the widest labour force gender gaps were recorded in Kosovo and in Turkey, where activity rates for women were 39.9 and 42.3 percentage points, respectively, lower than the corresponding rates for men. Between 2010 and 2020, the gender gap had fallen by 7.1 percentage points in Turkey; and by 4.1 in Kosovo (between 2012 and 2020). In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the activity rate gender gap was 26.3 percentage points in 2020, a fall of 2.4 from 2010, while in North Macedonia it was 24.3 percentage points, resulting in a gender gap decrease of 5.3 percentage points. Albania’s gender gap in 2020 was 17.0 percentage points, down by 5.3 percentage points from 2010. Serbia’s gender gap was 15.5 percentage points, a decrease of 4.7 percentage points; and Montenegro’s was about the same level at 14.7 percentage points, a decline of 0.3 percentage points (between 2011 and 2020).

The EU activity gender gap in 2020 was 11.4 percentage points, 2.6 percentage points below the corresponding figure for 2010.

Employment rates

In line with international standards, the EU Labour force survey (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. 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 15-64 years, as well as for those aged 20-64 years, in order to take account of the increasing proportion of young people who remain in education. The data presented in Figure 2 show employment rates in 2010 and 2020 by gender for the 20-64 year age group for the candidate countries and potential candidates, as well as for the EU.

Since people in employment make up a large part of the labour force, statistics about these two categories often increase or decrease together. Comparisons can therefore be made between Figure 1 and Figure 2.

Figure 2: Employment rates of persons aged 20-64 years, by gender, 2010 and 2020
(% of population)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_emp_a) and Eurostat data collection

The highest men employment rate in 2020 among the candidate countries and potential candidates was 74.0 % in Albania, where the women employment rate was 58.8 %. Men employment had increased by 2.5 percentage points from 2010, women by 9.0 percentage points, meaning that the gender gap had narrowed by 6.5 percentage points to 15.2.

Serbia reported an employment rate for men in 2020 at 71.6 %, and for women at 57.0 %. From 2010, men employment had increased by 9.3 percentage points and women by 12.5, narrowing the gender gap by 3.2 percentage points to 14.6.

Turkey in 2020 saw a men employment rate of 70.1 % and a women employment rate of 32.0 %. Men employment decreased from 2010 by 2.6 percentage points while that for women increased by 4.0 percentage points. The gender gap thus narrowed by 6.6 percentage points to 38.1.

In North Macedonia in 2020, the men employment rate was 68.9 % and that for women, 49.0 %. Both men and women employment had increased from 2010, by 10.5 and 11.5 percentage points, respectively, so that the gender gap declined by 1.0 percentage point, to 19.9.

The Montenegro men and women employment rates were 61.7 % and 48.8 %, respectively, in 2020. The men and women employment rates had risen by 4.7 and 4.4 percentage points, respectively, from 2011, increasing the gender gap by 0.3 percentage points to 12.9, the lowest among the candidate countries and potential candidates.

Bosnia and Herzegovina had a men employment rate of 64.9 % in 2020 and a women rate of 40.0 %. Men employment had gone up by 10.3 percentage points from 2010 and the women rate by 8.8, so that the gender gap widened by 1.5 percentage points to 24.9 percentage points over the ten years.

In Kosovo in 2020, men employment stood at 48.8 %, while the women employment rate was 16.0 %. The gender gap was therefore 32.8 percentage points, 1.4 percentage points narrower than in 2012, due to an increase of both men and women employment rates over the period by 2.2 and 3.6 percentage points, respectively.

By comparison, the EU employment rate for men stood at 77.2 % in 2020, higher than the corresponding rate for women, 66.1 %. Furthermore, men and women employment rate had increased by 3.8 and 5.4 percentage points, respectively, compared to 2010, so that the gender gap decreased by 1.6 percentage points to 11.1 percentage points.

Analysis of employment by economic activity

Figure 3 shows an analysis of the structure of employment for 2010 and 2020 by broad economic activities.

Figure 3: Employment of persons aged 15 years or more, by economic activity, 2010 and 2020
(% of total employment)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_egan2) and Eurostat data collection

In almost all of the candidate countries and potential candidates, services accounted for the largest proportion of the workforce in both 2010 (or 2011/2012, depending on data availability) and 2020, except for Albania in 2011 (data not available for 2010). In 2020, services accounted for more than half of all people employed in all the economies of the region except for Albania, where the share was 43.5 % and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where it was 45.3 %. The employment share of services in 2020 in Montenegro, at 74.1 %, and in Kosovo, at 67.9 % were notably higher than elsewhere in the region. In Serbia and Turkey, the share of services in employment grew between 2010 and 2020, from 52.1 %, to 57.5 % and from 50.1 % to 56.2 %, respectively.

A relatively high share of the total workforce was employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Albania, where it was the second largest employer in 2020 with a share of employment of 36.1 %. Agriculture, forestry and fishing was also a significant employer in all the other candidate countries and potential candidates except for Kosovo (4.8 %) and Montenegro (7.5 %). Employment in this activity fell during the period 2010 to 2020 in Turkey, from 23.7 % to 17.6 %; and in Serbia from 22.3 % to 14.6 %, in both cases falling below employment in the industry sector to become the third largest employer.

The candidate countries and potential candidates can be divided into two broad groups by their share of people employed by industry in 2020. The first includes Bosnia and Herzegovina with a 33.4 % share; North Macedonia with 23.9 %; Serbia with 22.6 %; and Turkey with 20.5 %. The second comprises Kosovo with 16.3 % share of employment; Albania with 13.4 %; and Montenegro, with 10.1 %. The share of employment in industry was fairly stable or recorded only small increases or decreases over the period 2010 (or 2011/2012, depending on the data availability) and 2020 in all candidate countries and potential candidates, with the exception of Bosnia and Herzegovina where it rose by 11.9 percentage points between 2011 and 2020.

Services employed 70.9 % of the EU’s workforce in 2020. Industry had the second largest share, with 18.2 % of total employment, while the shares of employment in construction, at 6.6 % and in agriculture, forestry and fishing, 4.3 %, were much lower.

Analysis of employment by working status

Figure 4 shows the shares of employment by working status: employees, self-employed and family workers for the candidate countries and potential candidates, as well as the EU.

Self-employed and family workers together accounted for 53.9 % of total employment in Albania in 2020, reflecting, to some degree, the relative weight of agricultural activities, with work spread across numerous small-scale holdings. Self-employment and family work were significant also in the other candidate countries and potential candidates in 2020: Turkey with 28.6 % of total employment, Kosovo 26.9 %, Serbia 23.0 %, Montenegro 20.7 %, Bosnia and Herzegovina 18.4 %, and North Macedonia 17.2 %.

In most of the candidate countries and potential candidates, the share of self-employment and family work declined between 2010 and 2020, in particular in North Macedonia, where it fell by 10.4 percentage points; and in Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where it fell by 9.0 and 8.0 percentage points, respectively. Serbia and Albania also recorded decreases between 2010 and 2020 (-5.9 and -2.8 percentage points). In Montenegro, the share of self-employment and family work increased over 2011-2020 by 5.2 percentage points. Data for 2010 are not available for Kosovo, thus no conclusion can be drawn regarding the development over time.

In the EU in 2020, 14.3 % of people in employment were self-employed or family workers. The vast majority of the workforce (85.7 %) were therefore employees. The share of the self-employed and family workers in total employment in the EU declined during the period 2010-2020 by 2.1 percentage points.

Figure 4: Employment of persons aged 15-64 years, by working status, 2010 and 2020
(% of total employment)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_egaps) and Eurostat data collection

Unemployment rates

Eurostat publishes unemployment statistics based on the definition of unemployment provided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), for which there are three criteria: being without work, actively seeking work, and being available for work. Therefore, people working only a few hours a week and who wish to work more, known as the underemployed, are excluded from the unemployment figures. The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed divided by the labour force.

In countries that have significant underemployment, understanding of the unemployment data benefits from being read in conjunction with employment data. If statistics are compiled on part-time work or on total hours worked, it may be possible to identify trends in underemployment.

In general, the unemployment rate begins to rise only some time after an economic downturn has occurred. Once the economy starts to pick up again, employers usually remain cautious about hiring new workers and there may be a lag before the unemployment rate start to fall. In addition, people who were formerly economically inactive join or rejoin the labour force, initially increasing the unemployment figures.

Data for the candidate countries and potential candidates on unemployment rates, as well as the EU, is shown in Figure 5 for the period 2010-2020.

Unemployment rates hit their high points for the 2010-2020 period in the years 2014, in Kosovo (35.3 %) and Albania (17.5 %); 2012 in Montenegro (20.0 %), Bosnia and Herzegovina (28.2 %) and Serbia (24.1 %); 2010 in North Macedonia (32.0 %); and 2019 in Turkey (13.7 %). The EU had its unemployment high point in 2013 (11.4 %). Unemployment rates over the period 2010-2020 reached their lows in 2019 in most of the candidate countries and potential candidates, and also in the EU, approximately eleven years after the global financial crisis. The exceptions where in North Macedonia and Serbia where the lowest points were reached in 2020, and Turkey for which the lowest point was in 2012.

Figure 5: Unemployment rates of persons aged 15-74 years, 2010-2020
(% of labour force)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_urgan) and Eurostat data collection

The highest unemployment rate in 2020 in the candidate countries and potential candidates was recorded in Kosovo, at 25.8 %. Montenegro, next highest, was far behind at 17.9 %, followed by North Macedonia, at 16.4 % and Bosnia and Herzegovina at 15.9 %. Kosovo had the highest average unemployment rate over the period 2010-2020 (29.7 %, 2012-2020), followed by North Macedonia (25.3 %) and by Bosnia and Herzegovina (23.9 %).

In 2020, Turkey’s unemployment rate was 13.2 %. Its 2020 unemployment rate was exceptional among the candidate countries and potential candidates as being above its 2010-2020 average rate (10.6 %), although for Montenegro the 2020 rate 17.9 % was slightly above its average of 2011-2020 at 17.7 % (2010 not available). Albania’s unemployment rate in 2020 was 11.8 % and Serbia’s 9.1 %, the lowest among the candidate countries and potential candidates. Serbia’s average rate, at 17.0 %, was above that of both Albania (14.2 %) and Turkey over the period 2010-2020. The EU unemployment rate in 2020 was 7.1 %, while its 2010-2020 average rate stood at 9.2 %.

Figure 6 disaggregates unemployment rates by gender for 2010 and 2020. In every case, women unemployment was higher than men, except for a fairly small difference in the other direction in North Macedonia in 2020. North Macedonia’s gender gap had changed by -1.2 percentage points from 2010, from women unemployment being 0.4 percentage points higher than men in 2010 to being 0.8 percentage points lower in 2020.

Kosovo’s unemployment gender gap in 2020 was 8.8 %, by far the largest in the region, despite a decrease of 3.1 percentage points from 2012, being also the greatest gender gap change. Bosnia and Herzegovina saw an increase in the gender gap by 0.2 percentage points to 4.4 % in 2020. Turkey’s unemployment gender gap in 2020 was 2.5 %, an increase of 1.5 percentage points from approximate parity in 2010.

The gender gap for unemployment was 0.4 % in Albania in 2020, having decreased by 2.8 percentage points from 2010, the second largest gender gap change. Serbia’s unemployment gender gap was 0.7 % in 2020, having fallen by 1.2 percentage points from 2010. Montenegro moved the other way with an unemployment gender gap of 0.9 % in 2020, an increase of 0.1 percentage points from 2011.

The unemployment gender gap in the EU in 2020 was 0.6 %, an increase of 0.3 percentage points from 2010.

Figure 6: Unemployment rates of persons aged 15-74 years, by gender, 2010 and 2020
(% of labour force)
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_urgan) and Eurostat data collection

Data sources

The main source for European labour force statistics is the European Union labour force survey (EU LFS). This household survey is carried out in all EU Member States in accordance with European legislation; it provides figures at least every quarter. Some of the candidate countries and potential candidates (Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey) also conduct the labour force survey according to the same guidelines and their data is available free-of-charge, together with the EU data, on Eurostat’s website.

Data for the enlargement countries are collected for a wide range of indicators each year through a questionnaire that is sent by Eurostat to candidate countries or potential candidates. A network of contacts has been established for updating these questionnaires, generally within the national statistical offices, but potentially including representatives of other data-producing organisations, for example, central banks or government ministries. LFS data for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are collected via these questionnaires.

The economically active population (labour force) comprises employed and unemployed persons, but not the economically inactive, for example children, students and pensioners as well as people caring for family members; some of these may be of working-age.


Labour market statistics are increasingly used to support policymaking and to provide an opportunity to monitor participation in the labour market. In the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis, these statistics are used to monitor the effects of the crisis on labour markets, which tend to lag behind changes in economic activity.

Social policymakers often face the challenge of remedying uncertainty in employment and high unemployment by designing ways to increase employment opportunities for specific groups in society, such as the young, those having working in certain economic activities, or those living in low employment regions.

The slow pace of recovery from the financial and economic crisis in the EU and mounting evidence of rising unemployment led the European Commission to propose an employment package in April 2012. This considered how employment policies intersect with a number of other policy areas in support of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It identified the EU's biggest job potential areas and the most effective ways for EU countries to create more jobs.

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). 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 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 could recruit more young people.

In June 2016, the European Commission adopted a Skills Agenda for Europe (COM/2016/0381 final) under the heading ‘Working together to strengthen human capital, employability and competitiveness’. This was 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.

The open method of coordination (OMC) enables the coordination of the Member States' employment policies towards common objectives for the labour market, without requiring binding European legislative measures. Through the peer reviews and the central role of the Council, it helps spreading good practices among Member States and achieving greater convergence towards the main EU goals. The OMC process for national employment policies is an integral part of the annual European Semester cycle of economic policy coordination.

Information concerning the current statistical legislation on labour market statistics can be found here

While basic principles and institutional frameworks for producing statistics are already in place, the enlargement countries are expected to increase progressively the volume and quality of their data and to transmit these data to Eurostat in the context of the EU enlargement process. EU standards in the field of statistics require the existence of a statistical infrastructure based on principles such as professional independence, impartiality, relevance, confidentiality of individual data and easy access to official statistics; they cover methodology, classifications and standards for production.

Eurostat has the responsibility to ensure that statistical production of the enlargement countries complies with the EU acquis in the field of statistics. To do so, Eurostat supports the national statistical offices and other producers of official statistics through a range of initiatives, such as pilot surveys, training courses, traineeships, study visits, workshops and seminars, and participation in meetings within the European statistical system (ESS). The ultimate goal is the provision of harmonised, high-quality data that conforms to European and international standards.

Additional information on statistical cooperation with the enlargement countries is provided here.


* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

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LFS main indicators (lfsi)
Employment and activity - LFS adjusted series (lfsi_emp)
Unemployment - LFS adjusted series (une)
LFS series - detailed annual survey results (lfsa)
Employment - LFS series (lfsa_emp)
Employment rates - LFS series (lfsa_emprt)
Total unemployment - LFS series (lfsa_unemp)