Main statistics (annual) - Economically active population

The economically active population comprises all persons of either sex who furnish the supply of labour for the production of goods and services during a specified time-reference period. According to the 1993 version of the System of National Accounts, production includes all individual or collective goods or services that are supplied to units other than their producers, or intended to be so supplied, including the production of goods or services used up in the process of producing such goods or services; the production of all goods that are retained by their producers for their own final use; the production of housing services by owner-occupiers and of domestic and personal services produced by employing paid domestic staff.

Two useful measures of the economically active population are the usually active population measured in relation to a long reference period such as a year, and the currently active population, or, equivalently, the labour force measured in relation to a short reference period such as one day or one week.

Tables 1A and 1B

The data presented in Chapter 1, Tables 1A and 1B of the Yearbook on the total and economically active population, have generally been drawn from the latest Population Census, indicated by the code (A) or Labour force sample survey, indicated by the code (BA), to the right of the country name. 1 These data include all persons who fulfil the requirements for inclusion among the employed or the unemployed. (For definitions, see explanatory notes to Chapters 2 and 3.)

National practices vary between countries as regards the treatment of groups such as armed forces, members of religious orders, persons seeking their first job, seasonal workers or persons engaged in part-time economic activities. In certain countries, all or some of these groups are included among the economically active while in other countries they are treated as inactive. However, in general, the data on economically active population do not include students, persons occupied solely in domestic duties in their own households, members of collective households, inmates of institutions, retired persons, persons living entirely on their own means, and persons wholly dependent upon others.

The comparability of the data is hampered by the differences between countries and even within a country not only as regards details of the definitions used and groups covered, but also by differences in the methods of collection, classification and tabulation of the data. In particular, the extent to which family workers, particularly women, who assist in family enterprises are included among the enumerated economically active population varies considerably from one country to another. The reference period is also an important factor of difference: in some countries data on the economically active population refer to the actual position of each individual on the day of the census or survey or during a brief specific period such as the week immediately prior to the census or survey date, while in others the data recorded refer to the usual position of each person, generally without reference to any given period of time. Also, in most countries the statistics of the economically active population relate only to employed and unemployed persons above a specified age while in some there is no such age provision in the definition of economic activity. 2

Coding systems used by countries present another factor of divergence in the data. In order that the groups of one classification be identical in content to those of another classification, the same coding criteria need to be used. In general, coding systems are more precise in labour force sample surveys than in population censuses. 3

In 1990, based on the Yearbook according to its previous presentation, the ILO Department of Statistics published a special issue entitled Year Book of Labour Statistics, Retrospective Edition on Population Censuses, 1945-89. This publication covers 184 countries, areas and territories throughout the world and presents data on the economically active population by age-group, status in employment, industry and occupation, derived from 559 population censuses carried out since 1945. It can be ordered from ILO Publications, International Labour Office, CH-1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland.

All the data collected according to the old format of the Yearbook, which no longer appear in Chapter 1 have been added to the LABORSTA database and are available on request, as are all other data contained in the Yearbook.

Table 1A - Total and economically active population, by age group

This table shows the economically active population and its relation to the total population, by sex and age group. The lower and/or upper age limits used for inclusion in the economically active population are indicated in parentheses to the right of the country name, examples: (15+) which means that persons aged 15 years and above are included, (15-74) meaning persons aged 15 to 74 years or (...) where the age limits are not available and (.) where age limits are not applicable. Two types of totals appear for most countries. From the first type (penultimate line of each table) specific activity rates, indicated in italics, can be obtained, i.e. ratios (expressed in per cent) of the economically active population aged 15 years and over to the total population of the corresponding age groups. From the second type (last line of each table), crude activity rates can be obtained, i.e. ratios (expressed in per cent) of the total economically active population to the total population of all age groups, including persons who do not belong to the working-age population.

In interpreting the crude activity rates, i.e. the ratios of the total economically active population to the total population of all ages, it should be recalled that the proportions of population in each sex-age group (particularly those under 15 years of age) will affect the crude activity rate shown. Countries with many young people who are mainly considered inactive will have lower crude activity rates than countries with few young people. The effects of differences in the definitions of the economically active population used in the various countries should also be taken into account. In particular, the activity rates for women are frequently not comparable internationally, since in many countries relatively large numbers of women assist on farms or in other family enterprises without pay, and countries differ in the criteria adopted for determining the extent to which such workers are to be counted among the economically active. Certain countries only include contributing family workers who work more than one-third of a normal work day. Activity rates for young people also should be compared with caution owing to variations among countries in the treatment of contributing family workers, of unemployed persons not previously employed, and of students engaged in part-time economic activities.

Table 1B - Economically active population, by level of education and age group

Table 1B shows the distribution of the economically active population by sex, according to the highest level of education attained and age group, for the latest available year. The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), adopted in 1976 by UNESCO, groups educational programmes according to their content into 8 levels, numbered 0 to 9. Levels 4 and 8, however, are not used.

The revised version of this classification adopted in 1997 groups educational programmes into 7 levels (0 to 6) and 10 sub-categories, according to content and subsequent education or destination. In this table data are shown separately for sub-categories 5A and 5B.

This table allows for comparisons of levels of education attained by different age groups of the population within a country, as well as for comparisons of educational structures between countries. Many countries, however, have difficulty establishing correspondences between their national classification and ISCED, especially with respect to technical or professional training programmes, short-term programmes and adult-oriented programmes (ranging around levels 3, 5 and 6 of ISCED-76 and levels 3, 4 and 5 of ISCED-97). For programmes leading to a university-type diploma, confusion may occur when, for example, only one diploma is awarded or when the first diploma is awarded following a number of years which exceeds the standard duration of the first stage of tertiary education programmes (e.g. medical studies). Once the correspondence is correctly established, the duration and contents of national programmes grouped together into a same ISCED level are nonetheless not strictly comparable between countries or within countries.

The classification criterion to establish the link between persons and levels of education attained is not comparable internationally. Basically three types of link are used in national survey questionnaires: (i) has completed the programme, (ii) has attended the programme, or (iii) has obtained the requisite diploma at the end of the programme. The first type which is recommended by ISCED seems to be the most frequently used link. 4

Abridged versions of the International Standard Classifications of Education ISCED-76 and ISCED-97 are shown in the Appendix.

Tables 1C, 1D and 1E

The classification according to industry (main economic activity carried out where work is performed) is fundamen­tally different from that according to occupation (main type of duties performed). In the former, all persons working in a given establishment are classified under the same industry irrespective of their particular occupations. The latter, on the other hand, brings together individuals working in similar types of work, irrespective of where the work is performed. As indicated in the tables, most countries have supplied data on the basis of the international standard classifications of industry (ISIC) and occupations (ISCO). Both of these classifications have been revised; ISIC in 1989 giving rise to ISIC-Rev. 3 and ISCO in 1988, giving rise to ISCO-88 (see Appendix).

Where the data are given according to national classifications, it should be borne in mind that the industrial and occupational classifications used by the different countries present many points of divergence. The actual content of industrial or occupational groups may differ from one country to another owing to variations in definitions and methods of tabulation. Classification into broad groups may also obscure fundamental differences in the industrial or occupational patterns of the various countries. Even when using international classification schemes,national practices may diverge concerning the classification of the unemployed with previous job experience. According to the international recommendations, such persons should be classified on the basis of their last activity. When this is not feasible, they are included in the residual category of the international classification scheme, Le. under activities not adequately defined (ISIC) or workers not classifiable by occupation (ISCO).

Coding systems used by countries present another factor of divergence in the data. In order that the groups of one classification be identical in content to those of another classification, the same coding criteria need to be used. This also affects the size of the residual groups’ activities not adequately defined (ISIC) and workers not classifiable by occupation (ISCO), which are smaller, the more information exists to classify persons. In general, coding systems are more precise in labour force sample surveys than in population censuses.

It should be recalled that the purpose of international classification schemes is not to supersede national classifications but to provide a framework for the international comparison of national statistics. Many countries, particularly those developing classifications for the first time, or revising existing schemes, use international schemes as a central framework.

Tables 1C, 1D - Economically active population, by industry/occupation and status

Tables 1C and 1D show the distribution of the economically active population, according to status in employment (asemployers, own-account workers, employees, etc.) classi­fied by industry major divisions (table 1C) and by occupa­tion major groups (table 1D).

The classification of Status in Employment (ICSE) classifies jobs with respect to the type of explicit or implicit contract of employment the person has with other persons or organizations. The basic criteria to define groups of the classification are the type of economic risk and the type of authority over establishments and other workers which the job incumbent has or will have. Up to 1993 the main ICSE groups are employers, own-account workers, employees, members of producers' cooperatives, and unpaid family workers. ICSE was revised and expanded in 1993, in a way which left the titles of these main groups basically unchanged. However, the content of the group own-account workers was enlarged to include persons working in a family enterprise with the same degree of commitment as the head of enterprise. These people, usually women, were formerly considered unpaid family workers in the old ICSE. The revised ICSE also makes the distinctions between groups clearer.

Experience has shown that frequently because of the way countries measure "status in employment", the content of the groups are not easily comparable. For example, in most countries managers and directors of incorporated enterprises are classified as employees, while in some others they are classified as employers. Another example is family members who regularly receive remuneration as wages, salary, corn­mission, piece-rates or pay in kind. In most countries they are classified as employees, but some countries classify them as unpaid family workers. Another important difference affec­ting the comparability of the number of unpaid family workers arises from the fact that some countries are not able to measure such persons as in employment at all. Many coun­tries cannot distinguish between own-account workers and employers in their basic observations, so only the sum of these two groups can be presented. Some countries which have few members of producers' cooperatives will group them with employees, while others group them with own account workers. Differences between countries with respect to classification by status in employment are particularly pronounced with regard to the treatment of unemployed persons. In general, unemployed persons with previous job experience, classified according to their last job, are included with employees, but in some cases they and unemployed persons seeking their first job form the most important part of the group persons not classifiable by status.

Table 1E - Economically active population, by industry and occupation

Table 1E shows the distribution of the economically active population by industry cross-classified by occupation. In this table, when unemployed persons previously em­ployed are already included in the component occupational and/or industrial groups, their total numbers are nevertheless shown separately and, in order to avoid adouble counting, appear in italics.

Abridged versions of the International Classification by Status in Employment (ICSE-1993), the International Standard Industrial Classifications of All Economic Activities (ISIC-Rev.2 and ISIC-Rev.3) and the International Standard Classifications of Occupations (ISCO-1968 and ISCO-1988) are shown in the Appendix.


1 For further information on sources and coverage of the data, see "Signs and symbols used in the tables".

2 For information on the differences in scope, definitions and methods of calculation, etc., used for the national series, see ILO: Sources and Methods: Labour Statistics, Vol. 2: "Employment, wages, hours of work and labour cost (establishment surveys)", second edition (Geneva, 1995) and Vol. 5: "Total and economically active population, employment and unemployment (population censuses)", second edition (Geneva, 1996).

3 For a review of the problems concerning definitions, methods of collection and classifications of data on total and economically active population, see: Surveys of economically active population, employment, unemployment and underemployment, An ILO Manual on concepts and methods, Geneva, International Labour Office, 1990; and United Nations: Handbook of Population and Housing Censuses, Parts I and II (ST/ESA/STAT/SER.F/54) (New York, 1992).

4 For a review of the work carried out by the Department of Statistics concerning the distribution of the economically active population by level of education, see: Bulletin of Labour Statistics, articles in editions 1991-2 and 1993-1, Geneva, International Labour Office.