Work has obvious economic benefits, but having a job also helps individuals stay connected with society, build self-esteem, and develop skills and competencies. Societies with high levels of employment are also richer, more politically stable and healthier.

Employment rate

Across the OECD, about 65% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. Employment levels are highest in Iceland (82%), Switzerland (80%) and Norway (75%), and lowest in Greece (49%), Turkey (50%) and Spain (56%). Employment rates are generally higher for individuals with a higher level of education. Across the OECD, an estimated 80% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 46% for those without an upper secondary education.

Despite a steady increase in female employment rates over the past 15 years, women are still less likely than men to have a job. In 2013, on average across OECD countries, 58% of women had jobs, compared with 73% of men. The gender difference is particularly high in Turkey and Mexico, and relatively small in Canada, Estonia and the Nordic countries. The increase in employment rates for women may be explained by structural changes in the economy and society but also by policy factors such as the provision of childcare facilities, which have made it easier for mothers with young children to return to work.

Long-Term unemployment rate

Unemployed persons are defined as those who are currently not working but are willing to do so and actively searching for work. Long-term unemployment can have a large negative effect on feelings of well-being and self-worth, and result in a loss of skills, further reducing employability. Such effects can last a long time, even after a return to work. Across the OECD, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at 2.8%.

Creating more and better jobs is a major challenge for governments. There is no difference on average between men and women in the OECD area when it comes to long-term unemployment, but the female unemployment rate is particularly high in Greece, while in Ireland long-term unemployment is much greater among men. Faced with ageing populations and rising social expenditures, facilitating employment for those who can work has become a priority.

Recovery from the economic and financial crisis that began in 2008 has been weak or uneven, and some countries have fallen back into recession. The OECD-wide unemployment rate was 7.0 % in early 2015, corresponding to around 43.1  million people out of work – some 8.7  million more than in mid-2008.. Average earnings

The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. Earnings represent the main source of income for most households. Analysing earnings may also suggest how fairly work is remunerated.

In the OECD on average, people earn USD 36 118 per year, but average earnings differ significantly across OECD countries. In the United States and Luxembourg, average earnings are more than twice as high as in the Eastern European countries, Greece and Portugal. How fairly these earnings are distributed within a country is another question. In recent years, earning disparities have increased in most OECD countries and whereas on average the top 20% of the population earn an estimated USD 42 969 per year, the bottom 20% live on an estimated USD 17 642 per year. There is also a gender difference, as men still earn more than women in all OECD countries, with an average wage gap of 15.5%.

Job security

Another essential factor of employment quality is job security. Workers facing a high risk of job loss are more vulnerable, especially in countries with smaller social safety nets.

On average in OECD countries, workers face a 5.4% chance of losing their job. In Greece and Spain, the chance is more than 12%, compared with less than 3% in Japan. Gender does not generally have a strong influence on job security. 

For more information on estimates and years of reference, see FAQ section and BLI database.

Jobs in Detail by Country