Related BLS programs | Related articles
May, 1986, Vol. 109, No. 5
An international comparison
of labor force participation, 1977-84
Over the past decade there have been substantial changes in the structure and performance of labor markets in most countries. These changes stem from changes in various economic factors such as the oil price crises in 1974 and 1978 and the subsequent slowdown in economic growth and emergence of international recession. However, labor force response since 1975 to these changes have varied considerably between countries and the outcomes may usefully be compared and contrasted. In this article, six countries with similar approaches to labor force measurement are compared.1 The largest is the United States, followed by Japan and West Germany. The smallest markets considered are, in order of size, Canada, Australia, and Sweden.
The aggregate participation rates in each country are shown in table 1. The range is large. Sweden had the highest labor force participation rate, followed by Canada, the United States, Japan, Australia, and West Germany.2
The overall changes in labor force participation since 1975 are also shown in table 1. In Australia the labor force participation rate fell 1.7 percentage points from 61.6 percent in 1975. West Germany and Japan experienced little change in the aggregate participation rate. By contrast, labor markets in the other countries were characterized by large growth in participation rates, particularly in Canada and the United States. In Sweden, which had the highest proportion of the working age population in the labor force of any country considered, the participation rate rose by slightly less.
This excerpt is from an article published in the May 1986 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
Read abstract Download full article in PDF (987K)
1 Details about labor force concepts definitions and data collection methods in each country are given in the appendix and in: Australian Bureau of Statistics, The Labour Force, August 1984, Catalogue No. 6203, Canberra, 1984 (and previous issues) for Australia, Statistics Canada, The Labour Force, December 1984, Catalogue No. 71-001, Ottawa, 1984 ( and previous issues) for Canada; Statistics Bureau, Annual Report of the Labour Force Survey 1984, Prime Ministers Office, Tokyo, 1984 (and previous issues) for Japan; Statistiska Centralbyran, Arbetskraftundersokningen, Series AKU-Arsmedeltal, Stockholm, 1984 (and previous issues) for Sweden; Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment and Earnings, January 1985, U.S. Department of Labor, Washington, DC, 1985 and Labor Force Statistics Derived From the Current Population Survey, A Data Book Vols. I & II for the United States; and Statistches Bundesmamt, Stund und Entwicklung der Ewerbstatigkeit, Reiche 4.1.1 Fascherie 1- Bevolkerung und Ewebstatigkeit Wiesbaden, 1983 (and previous issues) for West Germany.
2 The published Swedish participation rate is even higher (71.9 percent in 1984). Part of the explanation of why the published Swedish rate is so high is that the labor force is expressed as a proportion of the population aged 16 to 74. In other countries no maximum age is used to restrict the numbers in the working age population. The BLS has estimated that the inclusion of the population aged 75 and over would reduce the participation in 1984 by around 5 percentage points. The BLS estimates are used here.
Related BLS programs
Current Population Survey
Foreign Labor Statistics
Related Monthly Labor Review articles
Labor force participation: 75 years of change, 1950-98 and 1998-2025.—Dec. 1999.
The labor force: steady growth, changing composition.—Nov. 1999.
Developments in women's labor force participation.—Sept. 1997.
Employment change and sectoral distribution in 10 countries, 1970-90.—Oct. 1993.
Within Monthly Labor Review Online:
Welcome | Current Issue | Index | Subscribe | Archives
Exit Monthly Labor Review Online:
BLS Home | Publications & Research Papers