Sustainable Development Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Measuring progress in the Nordic countries

About this data tracker

Adopted in 2015 by all United Nations (UN) members, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a global agenda for making the world a better place by 2030. They are described by the UN as a ‘shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet‘, and goals are to be achieved by all countries, in global partnership, by 2030.

This data tracker uses the latest official data to look at how the Nordic countries are progressing towards achieving the 17 SDGs, with this page looking closer at Sustainable Development Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Each target is presented by first looking at global trends, before zooming in on the Nordic countries and assessing their performance. The assessment is based on work by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in analysing the progress made toward the SDGs in all OECD countries.

Target 8.1

Sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances and, in particular, at least 7 per cent gross domestic product growth per annum in the least developed countries


8.1.1Annual growth rate of real GDP per capita

Global trends

In 2020 global real GDP per capita fell by 4.4%, as the pandemic caused the biggest economic crisis in decades. Global economic growth picked up in 2021, and the trend is forecasted to continue in 2022 and 2023. Still, the pandemic will have lasting economic and social consequences that will take many years to recover from, and likely hamper progress on many SDGs.

With the pandemic a strong contributor, all SDG regions had lower average annual GDP per capita growth rates from 2015-2020 than from 2010-2014. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania (excluding Australia and New Zealand) and Latin America and the Caribbean, GDP per capita decreased from 2015-2020.

Note that there is no set numerical target in terms of annual growth rates, although the target text speficially mentions at least 7% for least developed countries (LDCs). According to the UN SDG Progress Report for 2022, growth in LDCs stood at 5% in 2019 and declined to 1.4% in 2021. Projections for 2022 and 2023 are also below the 7% target level, at 4% and 5.7% respectively (as of July 2022).

The Nordics

To operationalise this target for OECD countries, the OECD measures progress by looking at the average 15-year GDP per capita growth rate. The benchmark for 2030 is set as the average growth rate from 2000-2015 of the top 4 OECD performers, which gives a target GDP per capita growth rate of 3.8%.

Currently, none of the Nordic countries is close to achieving the same growth rates between 2005-2020 as was experienced from 1985-2020. This is a trend they share with the majority of other OECD countries.

Target 8.2

Achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labour-intensive sectors


8.2.1Annual growth rate of real GDP per employed person

Global trends

In the decade preceding the pandemic (2010-2019), the average annual labour productivity was 1.8%, higher than between 2000-2009 at 1.4%. While the pandemic caused a decline in labour productivity, it grew by over 3.2% in 2021, yet this should be interpreted with caution due to the large-scale structural changes caused by the pandemic in the labour market. As noted by the UN in the SDG 2022 progress report:

Lower-productivity firms and sectors and lower-paid workers were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, while high-productivity enterprises and high earners saw far less damage.

Regional labour productivity data show that Asian regions experienced the highest growth rates both between 2010-2014 and 2015-2020.

The Nordics

Similarly as to target 8.1 on GDP growth per capita, the OECD operationalises the labour productivity target by comparing it against average annual growth rate of the top 4 OECD performers from 2000-2015. This gives a target labour productivity growth rate of 3.6% annually.

Based on the latest data (2005-2020) all the Nordics are below this level. The overarching trend is that labour productivity growth has slowed over the past two decades, implying that it will be a challenge to reach the target level. See the below chart with comparisons between 2000-2007 and 2010-2020.

Target 8.3

Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services


8.3.1Proportion of informal employment in total employment, by sector and sex

Global trends

The latest UN data from 2019 shows the informal economy accounted for 60% of global employment, which entails that the majority of employed persons around the world work in the informal economy.

Regionally, the largest informal economy shares were found in Central and Southern Asia (86%), with the lowest in Europe and Northern America (19%). The informal economy plays an integral part of the labour market in all regions, and often offers the only option for many to earn an income. Informal employment is especially prevalent in the agricultural, forestry and fishing sector, where 9 out of 10 employed persons worldwide work in the informal sector. Integrating more employees and business owners in the formal economy is essential to improve working life, job quality and give more people access to social protection systems.

The Nordics

No data for the Nordic countries on this indicator is available from the UN SDG Global Database.

Target 8.4

Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production, with developed countries taking the lead


8.4.1Material footprint, material footprint per capita, and material footprint per GDP
8.4.2Domestic material consumption, domestic material consumption per capita, and domestic material consumption per GDP

Global trends

Global material footprint

The global material footprint is the total amount of raw materials extracted to meet final consumption demands. Over the past two decades, it has increased by almost 40 billion tonnes, reaching close to 100 billion tonnes in 2019.

A central challenge over the next decades is to achieve higher levels of resource efficiency so as to decrease the pressure on raw material extraction. Yet, since 2000 there have been only marginal improvements in the amount of raw materials needed per unit of wealth produced. In 2019 this stood at 1.1 kg of raw materials per unit of wealth produced.

Over the same time period, material footprint per capita has increased by over 30% to 12,4 tonnes (global average) in 2019, which underscores that at the moment there is world is not moving towards improved global resource efficiency.

Domestic material consumption

While the first indicator looks at the material footprint at the global level, the second indicator looks at domestic material use. It thus takes into account direct material use inside a country's territory (as well as any direct material imports and exports).

The latest data comparing 2019 with 2000, shows that material productivity has improved in most regions, i.e. less domestic material consumption per unit of wealth produced. Exceptions to this trend is in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as in Northern Africa and Western Asia.

Despite improved material productivity, when measured per capita/per person, the global country-average domestic consumption increased over the past two decades. Oceania (including Australia and New Zealand) as well as Europe and Northern America managed to achieve a decline in domestic material consumption.

The Nordics

Although the goal is to progressively improve global resource efficiency, there is currently no agreed target level set for 2030 on the indicators discussed above. The OECD has therefore operationalised the target for OECD-countries as the level of domestic material consumption of the top four performers in 2015 which was 0,143 kg per unit of GDP. The most recent data shows that none of the Nordic countries is at or below this level, with Iceland currently the closest.

No OECD progress assessment is shown as new data has been released after the OECD published its report.

Target 8.5

By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value


8.5.1Average hourly earnings of female and male employees, by occupation, age and persons with disabilities
8.5.2Unemployment rate, by sex, age and persons with disabilities

Global trends

No data is available at the global or regional level for average hourly earnings.

The pandemic pushed the global unemployment rate to its highest level for decades, reaching 6.6% in 2020. While it declined to 6.2% in 2021, the pandemic will most likely have long-lasting effects on the labour market and it has pushed the world further away from the SDG target of achieving full employment by 2030.

On the impact across different socio-economic groups, the UN said that:

The groups that were disproportionally impacted since the onset of the pandemic – women and youth – are now having the hardest time recovering. [...] There is now emerging evidence that persons with disabilities were hit harder as well.

All regions were hit by increased unemployment rates in 2020. The initial data suggests that the recovery in 2021 has been uneven, with many regions not seeing any improvement in 2021. Northern Africa and Western Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Sub-Saharan Africa are currently the regions furthest away from the goal of full employment.

The Nordics

There is no set target for average hourly earnings (indicator 8.5.1). The OECD therefore measures progress against the top four performers in 2015, with the target set at 24 USD per hour (constant 2015 PPP). The latest available data from 2018 shows that Norway and Denmark are currently above this level. Wage levels in the Nordics are high compared to other OECD-countries, with the OECD-average standing at 16 USD per hour in 2018.

Based on the target wording of "full employment" the OECD has operationalised the target unemployment rate in 2030 at 3% (indicator 8.5.2). While Iceland and Norway were close to this level before the pandemic, all the Nordics have recently seen unemployment rise. This has significantly reversed any recent progress, and the OECD considers it unlikely that any of the Nordics will reach the 3% goal by 2030 based on current trends.

Target 8.6

By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training


8.6.1Proportion of youth (aged 15-24 years) not in education, employment or training

Global trends

Even before the pandemic, the world was not making any significant progress towards reducing the share of youth not in education, employment or training (NEET). Data for 2020 shows that the pandemic has also caused further setbacks, not only pushing more youth into unemployment but also through disruptions to education and training programmes for youth. Note that this target was to be achieved by 2020.

NEET-rates vary significantly between SDG regions. In 2020 they were highest in Central and Southern Asia as well as in Northern Africa and Western Asia (31%).

The NEET rate twice as high for young women as for young men. The gender gap is particularly large in Central and Southern Asia and Northern and Western Asia. In these two regions, 48% and 42% of women were where outside employment, education or training, compared to 16% abd 20% of men.

The Nordics

As with the unemployment rate (target 8.5), the OECD has operationalised the NEET-rate target at 3%. The latest data from 2020 show that Norway is the closest to this level of the Nordic countries, with Finland the furthest away. Although NEET-rates in the Nordics are well below the European average, none of the Nordics is on a trajectory towards the 3% target.

Target 8.7

Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms


8.7.1Proportion and number of children aged 5‑17 years engaged in child labour, by sex and age

Global trends

Over 160 million children worldwide aged 5–17 years were engaged in child labour in 2020, according to the UN. This amounted to almost 1 in 10 of all children between 5-17 years of age, unchanged from 2016. In absolute numbers child labour has increased by over 8 million since 2016, putting the goal of ending child labour in all its forms by 2025 further out of reach. Child labour is most prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Nordics

No data is available for the Nordic countries on this indicator.

Target 8.8

Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment


8.8.1Fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 workers, by sex and migrant status
8.8.2Level of national compliance with labour rights (freedom of association and collective bargaining) based on International Labour Organization (ILO) textual sources and national legislation, by sex and migrant status

Global trends

No data is available at the global or regional level for fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries (indicator 8.8.1).

The level of compliance with labour rights has only seen a modest improvement globally since 2015. Compliance is measured by a score from 0 to 10 based on countries' compliance with freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, with a lower score meaning a higher level of compliance. The world average has decline from 5.3 in 2015 to 5.0 in 2020. The most significant improvements regionally were seen in Asia, although the level of compliance is still low compared to the best-performing regions (Oceania, Europe and Northern America.)

The Nordics

There is a lack of recent data for occupational injuries (indicator 8.8.1), with the most recent data from 2015. Comparing 2000 with 2015 the rate of fatal occupational injuries declined in all countries, as did non-fatal occupational injuries in all countries apart from Denmark.

All the Nordic countries have high levels of compliance with labour rights. According to the ILO, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, all have full compliance (score of 0). Denmark has a compliance score of 0.2, a decline from 0.7 in 2015.

Target 8.9

By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products


8.9.1Tourism direct GDP as a proportion of total GDP and in growth rate

Global trends

This indicator captures only the size of the tourism sector, providing limited insight into sustainability, jobs and the promotion of local culture/products.

The tourism sector was one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic, with its global share of GDP almost halved from 4.0% in 2019 to 2.3% in 2020.

All regions for where 2020 data is available, show a decline in the GDP share of the tourism sector.

The Nordics

In the Nordics, Iceland is the only country with 2020 data available, which shows the GDP contribution cut in half from 2019 to 2020.

No progress assessment is given for the Nordic countries.

Target 8.10

Strengthen the capacity of domestic financial institutions to encourage and expand access to banking, insurance and financial services for all


8.10.1(a) Number of commercial bank branches per 100,000 adults and (b) number of automated teller machines (ATMs) per 100,000 adults
8.10.2Proportion of adults (15 years and older) with an account at a bank or other financial institution or with a mobile-money-service provider

Global trends

The number of ATMs (per 100,000 adults) has increased in recent years, though not as fast as earlier in the decade, while the number of commercial bank branches fell slightly. This trend is in large part due to the digitalisation of finance and the expansion of mobile and internet banking, causing many banks to cut back on physical branches.

Access to finance has also increased over the past decade, with the number of people with an account at a bank or mobile money service growing from 62% in 2014 to 76% in 2021.

Access to finance varies significantly between regions, with close to the full population over 15 years of age having an account in Australia and New Zealand, while in Northern Africa and Western Asia as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa under half of the population had an account.

The Nordics

All the Nordics have virtually full coverage of banking services, according to the latest data from 2021.

Target 8.a

Increase Aid for Trade support for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, including through the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries


8.a.1Aid for Trade commitments and disbursements

Global trends

While the target sets out a commitment to increase Aid for Trade support, there is no set numerical target. OECD data shows that total official development assistance for trade has increased over time and reached over 64 billion in 2020.

No data is shown for each of the Nordic countries, as the distribution of international flows will depend on many factors, and there is no set country target level.

Target 8.b

By 2020, develop and operationalize a global strategy for youth employment and implement the Global Jobs Pact of the International Labour Organization


8.b.1Existence of a developed and operationalized national strategy for youth employment, as a distinct strategy or as part of a national employment strategy

Global trends

As of 2022, data on youth employment strategies is available for 81 countries. About half of those have operationalised such strategies (including Denmark, Sweden and Finland), while the remaining countries are in the process of developing or have developed/adopted such strategies. 3 countries for which data is available have not developed a youth employment strategy (including Iceland). No data is available from the UN/ILO on Norway for this indicator.

About the data

The data presented on global, regional, and national trends are from the UN SDG Global Database and the OECD unless otherwise stated.

The assessment of the Nordic countries is based on the findings from a recent OECD report, published in April 2022. The OECD uses a three-tier classification for each target:

  • Target is achieved or on track to being achieved
  • Progress has been made, but is insufficient to meet the target
  • No progress or moving away from the SDG target

In its assessment, the OECD looks at a country's current performance towards a target, and calculates a trend towards 2030 based on recent progress. As such, a country that is close to a target, but trending away from it, will be classified as having "No progress or moving away from the SDG target". Conversely, a country that is currently further away from the target, but trending towards it (and has a high likelihood of reaching it before 2030), will be classified as "Target is achieved or on track to being achieved".


  • First release July 2022
  • Data and text update December 2022

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