Statistics on the working-age population and labour force

The working-age population is a central concept in labour statistics. Changes in the size of the working-age population (usually defined as persons ages 15 and over) can impact significantly the labour market and the economy. A growing working-age population provides opportunities for economic growth while at the same time creating challenges for job creation and integration of new labour market entrants. By contrast, a shrinking working-age population can create challenges for economic growth, competitiveness, population dependency, etc.

Not everyone that is part of the working-age population, however, is actively engaged in the labour market. Some have jobs, others are seeking jobs, yet others are discouraged, engaged solely in other activities, or not interested in the labour market. Statistics are required to enable us to understand how people are relating to the labour market and how this changes over time. These statistics require clear definitions to ensure consistency and clarity of measurement, reporting and interpretation. As defined in international standards (19th ICLS, 2013), the labour force captures those persons of working age who are actively engaged in the labour market. It is the sum of persons employed and the unemployed. Together these two groups of the working-age population represent the supply of labour for the production of goods and services in exchange for remuneration existing in a country at a given point in time.

Key indicators to monitor the working age population and labour force include the employment-to population-ratio, labour force participation rate, as well as age dependency ratios. These are essential headline indicators of the labour market that need to be complemented with additional indicators, such as measures of labour underutilization for monitoring and to inform policy.

Table of Contents

Featured publication

Spotlight on Work Statistics: Education pays off but you have to be patient

Education pays off, but you have to be patient

The educational level of the world’s labour force is increasing, but it is not always easy for highly educated workers to find jobs matching their expectations. This Spotlight on Work Statistics explores the advantages and disadvantages of having a tertiary degree in the labour market.



Decent Work Indicators: Concepts and definitions

Decent Work Indicators - Guidelines for producers and users of statistical and legal framework indicators

Decent work is central to sustainable poverty reduction and is a means for achieving equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. The ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization recommends the establishment of appropriate indicators to monitor the progress made in the implementation of the ILO Decent Work Agenda. The ILO is supporting member States through technical assistance and capacity building at national, sub-regional and regional levels in this regard.

Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization

Adopted by the 19th ICLS (2013), this resolution sets standards for work statistics to guide countries in updating and integrating their existing statistical programmes in this field. It defines the statistical concept of work for reference purposes and provides operational concepts, definitions and guidelines for: (a) distinct subsets of work activities, referred to as forms of work; (b) related classifications of the population according to their labour force status and main form of work; (c) measures of labour underutilization.

Sources and Methods Volume 3B: Labour force surveys (2011) – Source of statistics of the labour force and its components

This volume presents national methodological descriptions of statistics of employment, unemployment, underemployment, hours of work and other indicators derived from labour force and household surveys, disseminated on ILOSTAT. It is a revised and updated version of the third edition issued in 2004, and contains descriptions for 160 countries and territories and 169 surveys.

Measuring the Economically Active in Population Censuses: A Handbook

Measuring the Economically Active in Population Censuses: A Handbook

The Handbook (2010) provides guidance on the measurement of economic characteristics in population censuses, based on relevant experiences of countries, with a particular focus on the questions used and the requirements for processing of responses. The Handbook is intended to provide census planners with a variety of approaches to assess the questions and methods of collecting economic characteristics used in their national census, as they evaluate the performance in the past decade and plan for the 2010 round of censuses (2005-2014).

Sources and Methods Volume 5: Population censuses (2004) – Total and economically active population, employment and unemployment

This volume is an updated version of the second edition issued in 1996 which presented national methodological descriptions of population censuses carried out during the period 1989-94 in 115 countries, areas and territories. The first edition issued in 1990 covered the period 1945-89.

Need Help?

Here are the basics to use the data catalogue

Something Still Not Clear?

Feel free to contact us, and we will be more than happy to answer all of your questions.

Use filters above the table

Select a frequency to find monthly, quarterly, or annual indicators. While all indicators are available for annual periods, only a subset are available as monthly or quarterly. You can also filter the database or use the search feature to enter key words.

Options to access data

Data available in the Excel summary files are for indicators only (not available for countries or regions) for selected classification items for 2010 onward for annual data and 2018 onward for short-term indicators. For historical data or additional classifications, either use the Data Explorer or download the CSV file. 

Download a zipped CSV file (gzip) to get data in bulk. These files contain only codes. Download the dictionary with labels here

There are other options to access data in the data tools section

The option provides an intuitive interface to filter the selection, including for all available breakdowns (e.g., sex and age), and export the data into various formats.