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, nearly 66% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. Employment levels are highest in Iceland (79%), Switzerland (79%) and Norway (75%) and lowest in Turkey (48%), Greece (56%) and Hungary (56%). Employment rates are generally higher for individuals with a higher level of education. Across the OECD, an estimated 82% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 45% 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 2011, on average across OECD countries, 60% of women had jobs, compared with 72% 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 cyclical factors but also by 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 3.1%.

Creating more and better jobs is a major challenge for governments. About one in three people of working age does not have a job in the OECD area, including many out-of-school youth and disabled people. There is little difference on average between men and women in the OECD area when it comes to long-term unemployment 3.2% for men and 3.1% for women – 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 8 % in early 2013, corresponding to around 48 million people out of work – some 14 million more than when the crisis began. There are clear signs that job creation will continue to be weak in many OECD countries.

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 34 466 US dollars 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. 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 47 324 USD per year, the bottom 20% live on 22 240 USD per year.

Job security

Another essential factor of employment quality is job security. Employees working on temporary contracts often face a higher risk of job losses than permanent workers and are therefore more vulnerable, especially in countries with smaller social safety nets.

On average in 30 OECD countries, employees with contracts of six months or less, represent more than 10% of total employees. In Mexico, Korea and Turkey, this type of contract concerns more than 21% of all employees, compared with less than 6% in Greece, Luxembourg, and the Slovak Republic. Gender does not generally have a strong influence on contract duration. In Korea however, there is a 6 percentage point difference in favour of men. 

Jobs in Detail by Country