In 2018, 15.3% of employees in the European Union (EU) were low-wage earners (this means that they earned two-thirds or less of their national median gross hourly earnings) compared to 16.4% in 2014. 18.2% of female employees were low-wage earners in 2018, compared with 12.5% of male employees. In 2014, 19.9% among female employees and 13.2% among males were low wage earners.
Highest share of low-wage earners in Latvia, lowest in Sweden
The proportion of low wage earners varied significantly among Member States in 2018. The highest share was observed in Latvia (23.5%), followed by Lithuania (22.3%), Estonia (22.0%), Poland (21.9%) and Bulgaria (21.4%). In contrast, less than 10% of employees were low-wage earners in Sweden (3.6%), Portugal (4.0%), Finland (5.0%), Italy (8.5%), France (8.6%) and Denmark (8.7%).
As regards the distribution by age group, low-wage earners accounted for more than a quarter (26.3%) of employees aged less than 30. The proportion of low-wage earners in the older age groups was much less, at 13.9% in the 50 and above age group and 12.6% in the 30-49 age group.
The lower the level of a person’s education, the higher the likelihood of being a low-wage earner. More than a quarter (27.1%) of employees in the EU with a low education level were low-wage earners. Fewer employees with a medium level of education were low-wage earners (18.0% of employees), while low-wage earners accounted for just 4.6% of employees with a high education level. For employees whose contract of employment was of limited duration, 28.1% were low-wage earners, compared with 12.8% of those with an indefinite contract.
Highest share of low-wage earners working in the food and accommodation sector
In 2018, the share of low-wage earners recorded in the EU was highest (39.0%) in the NACE Rev. 2 section: I (‘Accommodation and food service activities’); followed by 33.3% in section N (‘Administrative and support service activities’) that includes in particular the persons employed by interim agencies.
For more information, you can read our Statistics Explained article Earnings statistics.
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