EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Employment rate


The employment rate is the proportion of the total population considered to be capable of working, and which is actually engaged in employment.


While the unemployment rate takes into account only people actively looking for a job, the reference for the employment rate are all people of a certain age (normally aged 15 to 64 years), including those not able to work or who are not looking for employment.

An overall EU policy objective in recent years has been to combat unemployment and raise the employment rate, as set out in the European Employment Strategy (EES), launched at the Luxembourg Jobs Summit in November 1997. Since then, increased targets for the overall employment rate and, in particular, higher labour force participation of women and elderly people, have been the main objectives of EU policy. Besides the fight against unemployment, another purpose has come into focus in recent years: to increase the employment rate of the active population in order to counterbalance the effects of demographic change.

At the Lisbon European Council (March 2000), the European Union set itself a new strategic goal for the next decade, designed to enable the Union to regain the conditions for full employment and to strengthen cohesion by 2010. The aim of these measures was to raise the overall EU employment rate to 70% and to increase the number of women in employment to more than 60% by 2010.

The Stockholm European Council (March 2001) added two intermediate and one additional target: the employment rate should be raised to 67% overall by 2005, 57% for women by 2005 and 50% for older workers by 2010. The Barcelona Council (March 2002) confirmed that full employment was the overarching goal of the EU and called for a reinforced Employment Strategy to underpin the Lisbon Strategy in an enlarged EU.

Building on its experience until 2004, and in tandem with the mid-term review of the Lisbon Strategy, the Communication from the Commission on the Social Agenda of February 2005 (147Kb PDF) launched the new Social Agenda for the period 2006–2010. In order to achieve one of its two priorities, full employment, the revamped cycle of the EES under the Lisbon mid-term review envisages a new measure to foster contact with concerned players at all levels, to improve EES governance.

In its Europe 2020 strategy, the European Commission has increased the target for the employment rate of the population aged 20–64 years from the 69% achieved in 2009 to 75% in 2020, with the greater involvement of women, older workers and the better integration of migrants in the workforce, as detailed in the Communication from the Commission COM(2010) 2020 of 3 March 2010 (1.24Mb PDF).

See also: access to employment; employability; European Employment Strategy; labour force participation; women in the labour market; work-life balance.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


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