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.

Featured publications

This publication highlights the projected labour force participation across regions of the world, where you can find the largest share of the global labour force, and female participation rates including what is happening with gender gaps. The full database is available in Excel and Stata via the bulk download facility.

This document describes the main elements of the estimation and projection methodologies adopted for the 2017 edition. There are two important changes in this edition as compared to the previous edition. Firstly, the process for incorporating input data has been substantially modified in order to fully integrate the LFEP model within the ILOSTAT database structure, thus taking advantage of ILOSTAT’s quality control system. Secondly, the projections are obtained solely based on econometric methods, becoming more transparent and replicable. 

Quick links

World Employment and Social Outlook (WESO) – ILO flagship report

The Future of Work Centenary Initiative Issue Note Series: The future of labour supply

Spotlight on Work Statistics –  statistical briefs that use ILOSTAT data to explore various labour market issues