Employment rate of people aged 15 and older, 2012


Observations for policy

For Europe, a general North-South divide can be observed, with Scandinavia, Iceland and Switzerland showing the highest employment values, and Greece and southern Spain and southern Italy being on the verge of falling behind. Disparities do not only occur between countries but also within countries, especially in Southern Europe. In Spain, Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria employment rates range from less than 40% to 55%. Also in France and Romania regional disparities are large as employment rates of some regions are below 45% whereas other regions reach more than 55%.

Therefore, specific regions and territories but also specific population groups like the youth, women or older workers have to be addressed by policy initiatives in order to promote employment in the long-term. Strategies and approaches that consider the specific structure of regional labour markets and employment can thus provide an appropriate means for tackling unemployment and aiming at a post-crisis reduction of regional disparities in Europe.

Policy context

The Europe 2020 Strategy aims at raising the employment rate of the population aged 20-64 from 69% to at least 75%. Especially employment rates of women and older workers (55-64) are low compared to the US and Japan. The promotion of sustainable and quality employment was defined as a thematic objective of the ERDF for the funding period 2014-2020. Within this objective, investment priorities are, among others, related to local development initiatives and territorial strategies that support employment-friendly growth through the development of endogenous potential.

The 6th Cohesion Report emphasises the impact of the recent crisis on the development of employment rates. Between 2000 and 2008, employment rates in the EU increased on average by 3.7 percentage points. Since the beginning of the crisis in 2008, the employment rates decreased by 1.9 percentage points: The crisis wiped out half the progress. Especially less developed regions were hit by the crisis. In contrast to transition and more developed regions that lost two and one third of their gain, respectively, less developed regions lost all their previous gains. Consequently, with regard to employment the crisis has deepened regional disparities in Europe.

Map interpretation

At European level higher employment rates are generally observed in Northern Europe while lower rates tend to cluster in the South. Scandinavia (including Iceland), Benelux, Germany, the UK and the Baltic States generally have employment rates of 55% or higher, while in Greece, in Southern Italy and in Southern Spain it is only about 40%. In Switzerland, which is part of Europe’s industrial core, employment rates exceed 60%, comparative to neighbouring regions in Southern Germany, Austria, France and Northern Italy.

Some countries like France, Bulgaria, Hungary or Poland are furthermore characterised by regional disparities. Regional employment rates vary between less than 40% and more than 55%. Both Italy and Spain show a clear North-South divide, with higher values in the North and lower values in the South of the specific country. Madrid and the Balearic islands stand out from this pattern as exceptions in Spain. In Greece, only on the islands more than 45% of the population aged 15 and older are employed.

Within countries capitals are favourable regions. Disparities between the capitals and other regions are observed particularly in Spain, France, Bulgaria, Poland and the UK. The same disparities hold between other urban and rural regions: in Spain and Italy the rural South is less engaged in the labour market than the North, while in France urbanised regions such as Brittany, Toulouse, Ile-de-France and the Lyon area stand out in comparison with the more rural centre. These differences exist inter alia due to structural differences whereas growing industries tend to be more placed in capitals and other urban areas.

Concepts and methods

According to Eurostat, employment is defined as the number of people engaged in productive activities in an economy. This refers to people who, during the reference week, performed work (even for just one hour) for pay, profit or family gain. This includes the people who were not at work but had a job or business from which they were temporarily absent. The concept includes both employees and the self-employed.

The employment rate is the percentage of employed persons in relation to the comparable total, or working-age, population, in this case to the population aged 15 and older. These rates are displayed in the map for all EU28+4 NUTS2 regions as percentages. Seven classes are used, starting from less than 40%, increasing gradually by five percentage points, up to more than 65%.