The Length of Working Life

How long is an average person expected to be in the working life? Do countries differ with regards to how long people stay in working-life?

Young people by the sea
Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

Eurostat have tried to project the expected length of working life for a person who is 15 years old in 2021. They find that on average in the EU, working life is expected to last around 36 years. Note that working life here is defined as the time in the labour force, either employed or unemployed.

The indicator is based on an analyses of all adults in a country, and is heavily influenced by the labour force participation rate. Higher participation rates will tend to lead to higher number of years a person in that country is expected to be in the labour force. Note the guidance by Eurostat on how the data should be interpreted:

A common misunderstanding in the public debate on this indicator is that it shows how long persons must or should work. This is not the case. The indicator is purely descriptive and shows what is happening, not what should be happening.

The map and table below shows the expected length of working life by country. The countries available in the dataset from Eurostat cover European Union Member States, the EFTA Member States of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland.

Data from 2021 shows that Iceland (44.6 years), Netherlands (42.5) and Sweden (42.3) are the countries where working life is expected to be the longest. The shortest expected working life can be found in Romania, Italy and Greece.

Since 2000 the expected length of working life has increased in most European countries. The EU average, shown in the chart below, has risen by almost 4 years, from 32.3 in 2000 to 36.0 in 2021. The expected length has risen for both men and women. Women are on average expected to be 4.5 years shorter in the labour force than men (based on 15-year old person in 2021).

Read more: