Statistics Explained

Participation of young people in education and the labour market

Data extracted in August 2022

Planned article update: August 2023.


Significant structural differences among Member States in young people's participation in the labour force exist due to institutional factors, cultural determinants, job market for students, etc.
In 2021, more than half of the Dutch and Danish students and apprentices aged between 15 and 29 were part of the labour force (either employed or unemployed).

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This article focuses on the complex interplay between participation in formal education and in the labour market in the European Union (EU), supplementing a companion article on youth unemployment.

In the case of young people, participation in formal education and in the labour market interact in complex ways going beyond a straightforward one-way transition from school to work. A share of young people start working, e.g. in the form of part-time, weekend or student jobs, while still participating in formal education. It is indeed possible to be in formal education and on the labour market at the same time, leading to an overlap. It is important to be aware of these possibilities when interpreting and assessing youth unemployment rates.

Young people, according to the United Nations definition, refer for statistical purposes to the age group 15-24. However, the age category 15-29 also deserves attention as it is considered the reference in the Year of Youth context. For this reason, the current article presents information specifically for young people aged 15-29. However, some figures relate to people aged 15 to 34 to cover more extensively the transition from formal education to labour market.

The article presents the results for the EU as a whole and also compares results across all EU Member States, three EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) and one candidate country (Serbia).

Full article

Participation of young persons in formal education and in the labour force

At the age of 15, nearly 100 % of the population in the European Union are still at school. As the young people grow older, there is a gradual decrease in their share in education. Not all leave education at the same age, so there is a gradual change for the young population as a whole. The pace is determined by national systems of education and training, as well as other factors like national labour market characteristics and cultural determinants.

In parallel to a decrease in the proportion of young people in education, there is an increase in those in the labour force, employed or unemployed. The pace of exit from education is not identical to the pace of entry onto the labour force, as some people are in education and in the labour force at the same time, while others move out of education and stay outside the labour force. There is a range of situations in which education and labour force participation overlap, as will be seen below.

Figure 1 below shows a schematic presentation of the proportion of young people aged 15 to 34 years old in formal education and in the labour force at each age.

  • All those who are employed or unemployed according to the ILO definitions, are classified as being in the labour force, and are represented by an orange colour.
  • All those who state they have been in formal education or training during the previous four weeks are considered as being a student or apprentice, and are represented by a light colour (light blue or light orange).
  • Finally, those who are both in formal education or training and in the labour force, as employed or unemployed, form the overlap between formal education and the labour force and are represented by a light orange colour in the schematic representation.

Note that persons who participated exclusively in non-formal training sessions, such as attending a course, a seminar or taking private lessons, are not included and can appear either in the category ‘Persons outside the labour force, not student or apprentice’ (dark blue) or ‘Persons in the labour force, not student or apprentice’ (dark orange) depending on whether or not they are participating in the labour market [1].

Figure 1: Schematic presentation of the structure of the youth population in formal education and in the labour force by age (%)

The overlaps between education and labour force participation correspond to a range of different situations. For some young people, employment is subordinate to education, for example, in the case of a student who works for just a few hours a week (e.g. students working at weekends or in the evenings after classes). Others are employed and enrolled in a formal education programme at the same time (such as apprentices), or they study after work to qualify for a diploma. The same activity may count as both education and employment e.g. apprenticeships, paid traineeships (if part of a formal programme), or specific vocational training phases integrated into some study programmes in tertiary education. In line with ILO guidelines, paid trainees are classified as employed, but unpaid trainees are not.

The status of young people in the labour force can be further disaggregated to clearly distinguish those employed from those unemployed. This detailed overview at EU level is presented in Figure 2, where employed are colour-coded in orange and unemployed in more reddish orange. Please note that there cannot be overlaps between employment and unemployment, as a person cannot be both employed and unemployed at the same time. As with Figure 1, those in formal education are coded in a light shade and those not in formal education in a darker shade of the colour corresponding to the labour status (employed, unemployed or outside the labour force).

Figure 2: Youth population in formal education and/or in the labour force by age, EU, 2021

The following section of this article will analyse country differences regarding those patterns.

Country differences

There are significant structural differences among European countries in young people's participation in the labour force. The reason is a combination of institutional factors (e.g. formal apprenticeship schemes), cultural determinants, whether there is a job market for students, etc. Differences in the national systems of education and training also play a major role. For details see Eurydice - Description of national educational systems and policies.

Each country's characteristics are unique, hence charts such as Figure 2 are like a fingerprint for each country. Nevertheless, it is possible to create some country groups with common features. Figure 3 (age group 15-29) and Figure 4 (age group 15-34) plot the situation of all countries participating in the EU-LFS according to two parameters, where the first parameter is the degree to which those in education are simultaneously in the labour market (horizontal axis) and the second parameter is the level of youth unemployment, measured in terms of the youth unemployment ratio (for definition, see the article on Youth unemployment) (vertical axis). Looking at Figures 3 and 4 one can distinguish six country clusters.

Figure 3: Structure of the youth population aged 15-29 according to the participation in education and labour market and to the youth unemployment ratio, 2021

Figure 4: Structure of the youth population aged 15-34 and country groups by participation in education and in labour market and by the youth unemployment ratio, 2021

Group 1: The first group of countries has very few students who are employed or unemployed. For countries in this group, the overlap between the labour force and education is very small. This could be the case e.g. if the young complete their studies before looking for a first job, and there are only few part-time or student jobs available. Countries in this group include Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechia and Poland. Romania is shown in Figure 5 as an example. The defining feature of countries in this group is very thin bands of light orange and light reddish orange, corresponding to people who are in education and at the same time employed or unemployed respectively.

Figure 5: Youth population in formal education and/or in the labour force by age, Romania, 2021

Note that for countries in this group, the youth unemployment rate may be high even if the absolute number of youth unemployment is low, the reason being a very small labour market for the young people. See more details on youth unemployment rates in the companion article on Youth unemployment.

Group 2: The second group of countries features a relatively low overlap between education and the labour market and a high level of youth unemployment. Countries in this group include Greece, Spain and Serbia. Spain is shown in Figure 6 as it highlights one of the highest levels of youth unemployment for the age groups 15-29 and 15-34.

Figure 6: Youth population in formal education and/or in the labour force by age, Spain, 2021

Group 3: The third group includes countries with youth unemployment around the average for the EU and a relatively low involvement of students in the labour force. This group is comprised of Italy, Croatia, Portugal, Cyprus and France. Portugal is shown as an example in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Youth population in formal education and/or in the labour force by age, Portugal, 2021

Group 4: The fourth group of countries has two features: a relatively low to moderate overlap between education and the labour force and youth unemployment levels that are below the EU average. This group includes Malta, Luxembourg, Belgium, Lithuania and Latvia. Belgium is shown as an example in Figure 8. The defining feature of countries in this group is thicker bands of students or apprentices in the labour force than in the case of countries in the first group. Note that the number of young unemployed people in education is marginal compared to the number of young unemployed people not in education (compare the size of colour bands in light reddish orange and intense reddish orange).

Figure 8: Youth population in formal education and/or in the labour force by age, Belgium, 2021

Group 5: The fifth group of countries has high levels of employment among those in education but low levels of unemployment among those in education. These countries include Austria, Slovenia, Ireland, Estonia and Germany. Austria and Germany, in particular, are known to have established apprenticeship systems in secondary education. These factors help to explain further the high number of young people who are both in education and employment. Austria is shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9: Youth population in formal education and/or in the labour force by age, Austria, 2021

Group 6: The final group of countries displays a high to very high involvement of students in the labour force and an average level of unemployment. This group includes Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. These countries have a long-standing tradition of students doing part-time, weekend or student jobs (Nordic countries have strong seasonal unemployment among students as the season for summer jobs opens). Furthermore, some countries, e.g. the Netherlands, have dual study programmes in specific fields of tertiary education that include practical work phases. In this group of countries, young people start looking for jobs at a very early age; as a result, there is sizeable unemployment among students 15 to 19 years of age. This declines steadily at higher ages but is counterbalanced by a rise in unemployment among those in education. The example of the Netherlands is shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10: Youth population in formal education and/or in the labour force by age, the Netherlands, 2021

A video with the country profile of all EU-LFS countries can be found here.

Figure 11 summarizes the situation at country and EU level by focusing on the distribution of young people aged 15-29 participating in formal education by labour status. In the Netherlands, Denmark and EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland), more than half of the students and apprentices of this age were part of the labour force (either employed, or unemployed). By contrast, this proportion drops to less than one in ten in Czechia, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Romania.

Figure 11: Young people in formal education by labour market status, 2021 (% of the population in formal education, age group 15-29)

Differences between men and women

Figure 12 shows considerable differences between young men and women, comparing their participation in formal education and labour status (EU level, 2021).

Firstly, considering only the involvement in education, the shares of women participating in formal education were higher than those of men. This finding is particularly true for the age group 20-24 and, to a lesser extent, for the age group 15-19. The proportion of women in the EU aged 20-24 participating in formal education was 54.3 %, compared with 45.4 % for men.

Considering both the labour status and participation in education, the largest share of men aged 20-24 corresponds to those who were employed but not in education (38.8 %). By contrast, the largest share of women aged 20-24 was in education and outside the labour force (33.9 %).

For the age group 25-29, the gender differences diminish when it comes to participating in formal education, as shares for men and women somewhat equalise. However, strong differences between women and men aged 25-29 appear when looking at people not participating in education (the majority of this age group). The share of men aged 25-29 not in education and employed (70.3 %) was substantially higher than the corresponding share among women (62.0 %). Alternatively, more women than men aged 25-29 were not in education and outside the labour force (16.3 % compared with 7.3 %).

Figure 12: Young people by participation in education and or the labour market, sex and age, EU, 2021 (in % of the population)

Methods and definitions

Data sources

All figures in this article are based on the European 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 to 89 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 the countries. The EU-LFS is an important source of information about the situation and trends in the national and EU labour markets. Each quarter around 1.8 million interviews are conducted throughout the participating countries to obtain statistical information for some 100 variables. Due to the diversity of information and the large sample size, the EU-LFS is also an important source for other European statistics like Education statistics or Regional statistics.

Reference period: Yearly results are obtained as averages of the four quarters in the year.

Coverage: The results from the EU-LFS currently cover all European Union Member States, the EFTA Member States of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, as well as the candidate countries Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. However, at the time of writing this article, 2021 EU-LFS data were not yet available for Montenegro, North Macedonia and Turkey. For Cyprus, the survey only covers the areas of Cyprus controlled by the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

European aggregates: EU refers to the sum of 27 EU Member States. If data are unavailable for a country, the calculation of the corresponding aggregates takes into account the data for the same country for the most recent period available. Such cases are indicated.

Country codes: Belgium (BE), Bulgaria (BG), Czechia (CZ), Denmark (DK), Germany (DE), Estonia (EE), Ireland (IE), Greece (EL), Spain (ES), France (FR), Croatia (HR), Italy (IT), Cyprus (CY), Latvia (LV), Lithuania (LT), Luxembourg (LU), Hungary (HU), Malta (MT), the Netherlands (NL), Austria (AT), Poland (PL), Portugal (PT), Romania (RO), Slovenia (SI), Slovakia (SK), Finland (FI), Sweden (SE), Montenegro (ME), North Macedonia (MK), Serbia (RS) and Turkey (TR).

Country notes

In the Netherlands, the 2021 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.


The concepts and definitions used in the EU-LFS follow the guidelines of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Employed persons are persons aged 15 to 89 who, during the reference week, performed work, even for just one hour a week, for pay, profit or family gain or who were not at work but had a job or business from which they were temporarily absent because of something like, illness, holiday, industrial dispute or education and training.

Unemployed persons are persons aged 15-74 who were without work during the reference week, but who are currently available for work and were either actively seeking work in the past four weeks or had already found a job to start within the next three months.

The labour force comprises employed and unemployed persons. People outside the labour force are those classified neither as employed nor as unemployed.

People in education in this article refers to people in formal education during the four weeks preceding to the interview. Formal education and training is defined by UNESCO as ‘education that is institutionalised, intentional and planned through public organisations and recognised private bodies and — in their totality — constitute the formal education system of a country [2].

Non-formal education and training, i.e. any organised and sustained learning activities outside the formal education system are excluded from the analyses of this article. For further information on participation in non-formal education and training see the article on adult learning statistics.

Time series

Regulation (EU) 2019/1700 came into force on 1 January 2021 and induced a break in the EU-LFS time series for several EU Member States. In order to monitor the evolution of employment and unemployment despite of the break in the time series, Member States assessed the impact of the break in their country and computed impact factors or break corrected data for a set of indicators. Break corrected data are published on the Eurostat website for the LFS main indicators.

Additional methodological information

More information on the EU-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.


Following the Council Resolution of 26 November 2018, the EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027 has been introduced with 11 European Youth Goals and among them quality employment is set as one of the objectives.

The Open Method of Coordination supports the implementation of the strategy which should create favourable conditions for youth to develop their skills, fulfil their potential, work, and actively participate in society. In this framework youth statistics are an essential tool to support evidence-based policy-making in the various domains covered by the strategy.

Focus on young people is also highlighted in the European Pillar of Social Rights, which sets out 20 key principles and rights essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and social protection systems. Principle 4 (‘Active support to employment’) states that ‘young people have the right to continued education, apprenticeship, traineeship or a job offer of good standing within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education’.

In October 2020, all EU countries have committed to the implementation of the reinforced Youth guarantee in a Council Recommendation which steps up the comprehensive job support available to young people across the EU and makes it more targeted and inclusive, also when it comes to the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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  1. For the purpose of this article, the definition of people neither in education nor in employment is different from the one for NEET where people both in formal and/or in non-formal education and training are considered as being in education or training (for more information on this category of young people, refer to the article ‘Statistics on young people neither in employment nor in education or training’)
  2. International Standard Classification of Education 2011, paragraph 36, page 11.