4. Work and Job Quality

On average, across OECD countries, 77% of the adult population (aged 25 to 64) is employed (Figure 4.2), ranging from 87% in Iceland to less than 60% in Turkey. Broadly speaking, employment is lower in southern European countries and in Latin America, and higher in northern and central Europe, Japan and New Zealand. Compared to 2010, in the aftermath of the crisis, the share of employed adults in the OECD has increased by 5 percentage points, with the largest increases occurring in Hungary (14 percentage points), followed by the Baltic States (around 10 percentage points). The share of employed adults is, however, still below its 2010 level in Greece and Brazil (by 4 percentage points).

The employment figures shown above exclude youths and young adults (aged 15-24), since many people in this age group are in full-time education or training. Thus, countries with high participation rates in upper secondary and tertiary education, or vocational study, are penalised when a 15-64 age range is considered for employment. Nevertheless, the availability of jobs for youths who are not in full-time study is an important issue. Across OECD countries on average, one youth in every 10 is not in employment, education or training (NEET) (Figure 4.3). Around 5% of youths in Japan and Iceland are NEET, but this contrasts with more than 20% in Turkey and Colombia. Compared to 2010, the NEET share has fallen by 2 percentage points on average across OECD countries. Much larger falls occurred in Latvia (by 11 percentage points), Greece (by 6 points), Ireland, Spain and Turkey (by 5 points). At the same time, the NEET rate remained stably high in Chile, and increased slightly in Colombia.

Long-term unemployment refers to people who have been out of work for one year or more, but who have been actively seeking employment within the last four weeks, and would be available to take up a job within two weeks. While most spells of unemployment tend to be short, long-term unemployment weighs heavily on the well-being of individuals and their families. On average, 2.1% of the total labour force in OECD countries have been unemployed for one year or more (Figure 4.4). The long-term unemployment rate is highest in Greece (at almost 14%) and South Africa (where it is almost 17%), while it is lowest in Mexico and Korea (close to zero). Compared to 2010, the share of people in long-term unemployment has fallen by about 1 percentage point for the average OECD country, with the largest falls (between 6 to 8 percentage points) recorded in the Baltic States and Ireland. The long-term unemployment rate has increased since 2010, however, in Greece (by 7 points), in South Africa (by 3 points) and in Italy (by 2 points).

The risk of job loss impacts all workers, albeit often unequally. On average across OECD countries, the expected monetary loss associated with becoming and staying unemployed, as a share of previous earnings, was around 5% in 2016 (Figure 4.5). This measure reflects both the risk of losing one’s job and the protections available in case this risk materialises, in the form of social programmes available to the unemployed. This figure ranged from 8% in southern Europe, the Slovak Republic and Turkey (and exceeds 20% in Greece), to just 2% in Iceland and Germany. Between 2010 and 2016, the OECD average measure of labour market insecurity fell by 1 percentage point, with much larger falls in Estonia, Latvia and Hungary (between 7 and 8 percentage points). However, over the same period, labour market insecurity increased in several countries with already high rates, including in Greece (by 11 percentage points), Spain (5.1) Italy (2.3) and Portugal (1). Although starting from a lower base, it also increased in Norway (by 1.2 percentage points).

Earnings are an important component of job quality. The average annual gross earnings of full-time employees stand at USD 41 500 in the OECD (Figure 4.6), ranging from less than USD 20 000 in Mexico to more than USD 60 000 in Iceland, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the United States. Between 2010 and 2018, this earnings measure increased by 7%, cumulatively (about USD 2 700) in real terms, on average across OECD countries. The largest increases occurred in Iceland (by 45%), followed by the Baltic States and Poland (between 23% and 41%), while the measure declined the most in Greece (-15%), followed by other southern European countries: Spain, Portugal (-6%) and Italy (-3%).

The distribution of earnings within countries can be assessed by looking at the ratio between earnings at the 90th percentile (i.e. at the beginning of the top 10%), and those at the 10th percentile (i.e. at the beginning of the bottom 10%). On average across OECD countries, earners at the 90th percentile earn more than 3 times those at the 10th percentile (Figure 4.7). The ratio ranges from 5 in the United States and Israel, to 2 in Sweden and Italy.

Full-time employees earning less than two-thirds of gross median earnings for all full-time employees are considered to experience low pay. Across OECD countries, on average, 15% of full-time employees experience low pay, ranging from 25% in Latvia and in the United States, to fewer than 5% in Belgium and Turkey.

Job strain is about the quality of the working environment. It is defined as a situation where the job demands experienced by workers (i.e. physical demands, work intensity, inflexible working hours) exceed the resources available to them (i.e. task discretion, training, career advancement). On average, almost one-third of employees in OECD countries experienced job strain in 2015 (Figure 4.8). This share is generally higher in central and southern European countries (peaking at almost 50% in Greece), while affecting around 20% of employees in northern Europe and New Zealand. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of employees experiencing job strain fell by almost 8 percentage points on average across OECD countries, with the largest falls (between -15 and -16 percentage points) in northern and central Europe.

Long hours spent in paid work can impinge on leisure time, personal care, and a person’s ability to contribute to unpaid work (such as housework and caring for family members) within a household. On average, around 7% of employees in OECD countries routinely work 50 hours or more each week (Figure 4.9). This rises to more than 25% in Turkey, Mexico and Colombia, but is almost zero in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Lithuania. Relative to 2010, the share of employees who spend long hours in paid work has fallen by 1.7 percentage point, on average, with much larger falls in Turkey (-16 percentage points), Colombia (-9) and Chile (-8). However, it increased slightly in a few countries, with the strongest increase (of 2 percentage points) occurring in Ireland.

Across OECD countries, men aged 25-64 are more likely than women of the same age to be employed (83% to 70%, respectively, on average). Gender differences in long-term unemployment are much smaller, but still favour men (2%, compared to 2.2% for women). When aged 15-24, young men are less likely to be NEET (not in employment, education or training) than young women (10% compared to 12%). Men’s hourly earnings are also 13% higher than women’s (Figure 4.10). When accounting for differences in working time, employment rates and the gender wage gap, men’s labour income overall is 40% higher than for women (OECD, 2018[1]). However, men are 20% more likely than women to experience job strain, and they are also more likely to spend long hours in paid employment (10% of male employees usually work 50 hours or more per week, compared to only 4% female employees). This contrasts with the pattern that emerges when both paid and unpaid working time are combined (see Reference Chapter 10 on Work-Life Balance), which shows women in OECD countries working 25 minutes per day longer than men, on average.

Across OECD countries, on average, young adults (aged 15 to 24) are 50% less likely to be employed than middle-aged adults (aged 25 to 54). They are also 20% more likely to be in long-term unemployment, 20% more likely to experience job strain, and their hourly earnings are 30% lower when compared to middle-aged adults. However, only 5% of young adults usually work 50 hours or more per week (compared to 8% of middle-aged adults). At the other hand of the age spectrum, older adults (aged 55-64) are 20% less likely to be employed than middle-aged adults, and 30% more likely to be long-term unemployed. However, when employed, their hourly earnings are 4% higher. Similarly to middle-aged workers, 27% of older employees experience job strain and 8% of them usually work 50 hours or more per week.

On average across OECD countries, adults aged 25 to 64 with less than an upper secondary education are 30% less likely to be employed than adults with a tertiary education. When employed, their hourly earnings are 40% lower; the share experiencing job strain is more than twice the rate among the tertiary educated; and they are more than three times as likely to be in long-term unemployment. By contrast, adults with an upper secondary education are almost as likely as adults with tertiary education to be employed – although their hourly earnings are 30% lower, and their incidence of job strain is 4 times higher. Adults with an upper secondary education are also 70% more likely to be in long-term unemployment, when compared to tertiary-educated adults.


[6] Cazes, S., A. Hijzen and A. Saint-Martin (2015), “Measuring and Assessing Job Quality: The OECD Job Quality Framework”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 174, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5jrp02kjw1mr-en.

[2] ILO (2015), “What does NEETs mean and why is the concept so easily misinterpreted?”, ILO, Youth Employment Programme, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_343153.pdf (accessed on 4 October 2019).

[4] ILO (2013), Decent Work Indicators: Guidelines for Producers and Users of Statistical and Legal Framework Indicators, ILO Manual, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---integration/documents/publication/wcms_229374.pdf (accessed on 23 August 2019).

[1] OECD (2018), Good Jobs for All in a Changing World of Work: The OECD Jobs Strategy, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264308817-en.

[5] OECD (2017), OECD Guidelines on Measuring the Quality of the Working Environment, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264278240-en.

[3] OECD (2017), OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Statistics: concepts, standards, definitions and classifications, OECD Publishing, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264279889-en (accessed on 4 October 2019).

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