The ILO standard for the lower age limit is 15 years. For many countries, this age corresponds directly to societal standards for education and work eligibility. However, in some countries, particularly developing ones, it is often appropriate to include younger workers because “working age” can, and often does, begin earlier. Some countries in these circumstances use a lower official bound and include younger workers in their measurements. Similarly, some countries have an upper limit for eligibility, such as 65 or 70 years, although this requirement is imposed rather infrequently (examples are Egypt (upper limit 64 years) and Finland (upper limit 74 years)).
Apart from issues related to age, the population base for employment ratios can vary across countries. In most cases, the resident non-institutional population of working age living in private households is used, excluding members of the armed forces and individuals residing in mental, penal or other types of institution. Many countries, however, include the armed forces in the population base for their employment ratios even when they do not include them in the employment figures.
Comparability of employment ratios across countries is affected most significantly by variations in the definitions used for the employment and population figures, as described above. Perhaps the biggest differences result from age coverage, such as the lower and upper bounds for labour force activity. Estimates of both employment and population are likely to vary according to whether members of the armed forces are included. To a large extent, these comparability issues have been addressed in the construction of the table as employment and population figures are harmonized.
However, the use of nationally reported data in the construction of the estimates can also create issues with comparability due to the nature of the data source. National labour force surveys tend to be similar in several essential features, and data derived from them are likely to be more comparable than data obtained from other sources or from a combination of different sources. Nevertheless, despite their strength, labour force survey data may contain non-comparable elements in terms of scope and coverage or variations in national definitions of the employment concept.
An example of measurement differences that can arise has to do with the national treatment of particular groups of workers. The international definition, as stated above, calls for inclusion of all persons who worked for at least one hour during the reference period. The worker could be in paid employment or in self employment or engaged in less obvious forms of work, each of which is dealt with in detail in the resolution, such as unpaid family work, apprenticeship or non-market production. The majority of exceptions to coverage of all persons employed in a labour force survey have to do with slight national variations to the international recommendation applicable to the alternate employment statuses. For example, some countries measure persons employed in paid employment only (United States Virgin Island) and some countries measure only “all persons engaged” (Albania until 2002, Lithuania until 1993, Malta until 1999), meaning paid employees plus working proprietors who receive some remuneration based on corporate shares. Additional, although of less significance, variations that apply to the “norms” pertaining to measurement of total employment include hours limits (beyond one hour) placed on contributing family members before inclusion. The United States, for example, includes only contributing family members who worked more than 15 hours per week during the reference period.
For most cases, household labour force surveys are used, and they provide estimates that are consistent with ILO definitional and collection standards. A small number of countries use other sources, such as population censuses or official estimates, which can cause problems of comparability at the international level. Ratios may diverge slightly from nationally reported figures because of the harmonization process.
The ILO has made an intensive effort to assemble data on labour market indicators for as many countries, areas and territories as possible. Where there is no information for a country, it is usually because the country involved was not in a position to provide information for the indicator. Even when information for an indicator was available, it may not have been sufficiently current or may not have met other qualifications established for inclusion in the Key Indicators of the Labour Market (KILM), on which the information for the employment-to-population rate is based.
In compiling the KILM, the ILO concentrates on bringing together information from international repositories. In other words, the KILM team rarely collects information directly from national sources, but rather takes advantage of existing compilations held by various organizations, such as the following:
International Labour Office (Bureau of Statistics)
United Nations Statistics Division
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
Statistical Office of the European Union (EUROSTAT)
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Information maintained by these organizations has generally been obtained from national sources or is based on official national publications.
Whenever information was available from more than one repository, the information and background documentation from each repository was reviewed in order to select the information most suitable for inclusion, based on an assessment of the general reliability of the sources, the availability of methodological information and explanatory notes regarding the scope of coverage, the availability of information by sex and age, and the degree of historical coverage. Occasionally, two data repositories have been chosen and presented for a single country; any resulting breaks in the historical series are duly noted.
For countries with less-developed labour market information systems, such as those in the developing economies, information may not be easily available. Many of these countries, however, do collect labour market information through household and establishment surveys, population censuses and administrative records, so that the main problem remains the communication of such information to the global community. In this situation, the ILO Labour Market Indicators Library (LMIL) programme was used. The LMIL is a system for sharing information between the ILO regional offices and headquarters. ILO regional offices are closer to the original micro-sources of data and have therefore been successful in filling in numerous gaps where data at headquarters – used in the production of the KILM – had not existed. It is an ongoing programme that continues to assist the KILM and other ILO publications and research programmes in the expansion of its country and yearly coverage of indicators.