OECD Factbook 2011-2012: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics
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branch Labour
branch Employment and hours worked
    branch Self-employment

Self-employment may be seen either as a survival strategy for those who cannot find any other means of earning an income or as evidence of entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to be one's own boss. The self-employment rates shown here reflect these various motives.


Employment is generally measured through national labour force surveys. According to the ILO Guidelines, employed persons are defined as those aged 15 or over who report that they have worked in gainful employment for at least one hour in the previous week or who had a job but were absent from work in the reference week.

Self-employed persons include employers, own-account workers, members of producers' co-operatives, and unpaid family workers. People in the last of these groups do not have a formal contract to receive a fixed amount of income at regular intervals, but they share in the income generated by the enterprise; unpaid family workers are particularly important in farming and retail trade. Note that all persons who work in corporate enterprises, including company directors, are considered to be employees.

The rates shown here are the percentages of the self-employed in total civilian employment i.e. total employment less military employees.


All OECD countries use ILO Guidelines for measuring employment. Operational definitions used in national labour force surveys may, however, vary slightly across countries. Only unincorporated self-employed are included in self-employed in Australia, Canada and the United States. Employment levels are also likely to be affected by changes in the survey design, questions sequencing and/or the ways in which surveys are conducted. Despite this, self-employment rates are likely to be fairly consistent over time.


In 2010, the share of self-employed workers in the total (men and women together) ranged from under 8% in the United States, and Norway to well over 30% in Greece, Mexico, and Turkey. In general, self-employment rates are highest in countries with low per capita income although Italy, with a self-employment rate of around 25.5%, is an exception. Ireland and Spain also combine high per capita incomes and high self-employment rates.

Over the period 1990-2010, self-employment rates have been falling in most countries. However the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom saw moderate increases and the Slovak Republic sharp increases, albeit from low levels in the latter country. Conversely, there have been sharp declines in self-employment rates in Turkey, Greece, Korea, Poland, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, and Mexico, starting from a higher level.

Levels and changes in total self-employment rates conceal significant differences between men and women. While most men would tend to be employers or own account workers, a larger share of self-employed women play a supporting role in unpaid family jobs. In 2010, considering those countries with data, only two countries, Mexico and Turkey recorded female self-employment rates larger than the male rate. In the case of Turkey, almost half of all woman with a paid job are self-employed, down from 78.4% recorded in 1990.



Further information
Analytical publications
Online databases
Indicator in PDF Acrobat PDF page

Self-employment rates
    Table in Excel

Self-employment rates: total Figure in Excel
Self-employment rates: total

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