Exploring self-employment in the European Union

02 November 2017
21 September 2017
Executive summary in 22 languages



In the rapidly changing world of work, the traditional dichotomy of employee and self-employed is insufficient to capture the wide diversity of self-employed workers in Europe today. This report identifies five categories of self-employed, reflecting the wide-ranging attitudes, income levels, and health and well-being among this diverse group. Based on data from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) and the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS), the analysis reveals that the majority of self-employed workers enjoy high levels of job quality. However, there are concerns in relation to so-called ‘economically dependent workers’: while they are classed as self-employed, they lack both the autonomy that self-employment usually offers and the social protection granted by regular employment. Some policy approaches of Member States to this ‘in-between’ employment status are described in detail, which are of relevance for the discussions around the European Pillar of Social Rights.

  • Report

  • Executive summary

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    Catalogue info

    Exploring self-employment in the European Union - Executive summary


    Self-employment in the European Union is in a process of continual change. While the proportion of the self-employed in the EU28 Member States is stable, its composition has shifted. While on the one hand there has been a decline in employment in agriculture (generally self-employment), on the other hand the proportions of self-employed workers in the services sector and public sector have increased. Another recent phenomenon is the increase in the proportion of self-employed people who do not employ workers. Across the European Union, some countries have experienced a greater degree of change in the proportion of self-employed workers than in others. In general, self-employment has become more varied and this diversity presents a challenge for policymakers. Read more in the report - see Related content.

    Available for download in 22 languages

  • Working papers

    Related working papers

    • Classifying self-employment and creating an empirical typology
      Working paper
      02 November 2017
      De Moortel, Deborah; Vanroelen, Christophe
      Reference No

Part of the series

  • European Working Conditions Survey 2015

    ​Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) paints a wide-ranging picture of Europe at work across countries, occupations, sectors and age groups. This series consists of findings from the 2015 EWCS. The survey was first carried out in 1991.

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