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Society at a Glance 2009: OECD Social Indicators
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branch Self-sufficiency Indicators
  branch Unemployment

Definition and measurement

The unemployment rate is the ratio of people out of work and actively seeking it to the population of working age either in work or actively seeking it (15 to 64-years old). The data are gathered through labour force surveys of member countries. According to the standardised ILO definition used in these surveys, the unemployed are those who did not work for at least one hour in the reference week of the survey but who are currently available for work and who have taken specific steps to seek employment in the four weeks preceding the survey. Thus, for example, people who cannot work because of physical impairment, or who are not actively seeking a job because they have little hope of finding work are not considered as unemployed.

This section also presents data on the incidence of long-term unemployment among all unemployed persons. Long-term unemployment is defined in two alternative ways: those who have been unemployed more than six months and those unemployed for more than 12 months.

 

In 2007 the average OECD unemployment rate was 5.7%. Unemployment rates were under 3% in Iceland and Norway. Unemployment rates remain above 10% in the Slovak Republic and Turkey (Table SS2-3).

The average OECD unemployment rate fell about one percentage point between 2005 and 2007. Unemployment had previously moderately increased for four consecutive years since 2001 (Figure SS2-1). However, developments have been quite diverse across countries over the same period. Declines occurred in 15 countries (notably in the Slovak Republic, Spain and Poland) and increases occurred in another 15 (including Germany, Portugal and Sweden). The recent financial crisis is also likely to push unemployment rates up across many OECD countries.

Young people, migrants and less educated people are more likely to be unemployed. The age pattern holds for all 30 countries. The average unemployment rate of young people across OECD countries (12%) is much higher than that of both working age 25-54 (5%) and older people (4%). The unemployment rate of immigrants is somewhat elevated compared to the native-born (on average 3 percentage points higher). This pattern does not hold in Hungary, Turkey, or the United States, where immigrant unemployment is lower. However, in Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Nordic countries, the unemployment rate of immigrants is more than double that of the native-born population. The education pattern holds for all countries except in Mexico, Korea and Turkey, where more educated people are slightly more likely to be unemployed.

There has been some welcome convergence of female and male unemployment rates across many countries. Currently, women are on average only marginally more likely to be unemployed than men. However the four Mediterranean countries - Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal - still have unemployment gaps to the detriment of women in 2007 at or over 3 percentage points. Figure SS2-2 shows that at the beginning of the 1990s the gender gap was actually considerably higher in three out of four of these countries than in 2007. Greece is the exception with little reduction in gender inequality.

Figure and table notes

Figure SS2-2: The closest figures to 1990 were 1991 for Iceland, Mexico and Switzerland, 1992 for Hungary and Poland, 1993 for the Czech Republic, 1994 for Austria and the Slovak Republic.

Table SS2-3: Note 1: 2006 by educational attainment. Note 2: 2006 for Canada, Iceland and the United States.

Indicator in PDF Acrobat PDF page

Table
Unemployment indicators, 2007
    Table in Excel

Figures
SS2-1. The OECD unemployment rate is in decline Figure in Excel
The OECD unemployment rate is in decline
SS2-2. Gender gaps in unemployment to the detriment of women are generally declining Figure in Excel
Gender gaps in unemployment to the detriment of women are generally declining