Labour force
18. Feb 2020
Faroese labour force remains the most active in Europe

The Faroe Islands have an activity rate of 85.4 percent, which is the highest in Europe. Out of almost 37,100 people aged 15-74, just under 31,700 make up the labour force.

This amounts to an activity rate of 85.4% averaged over both genders. Faroese men have an activity rate of 87%, and the women’s rate is 84%. This is the highest activity rate in Europe, followed by Iceland.


The Faroese labour force has increased by just over 2,000 people in the past five years, spread evenly across the two genders.


These are some of the key findings of the labour force survey conducted by Statistics Faroe Islands in November 2019. A detailed report with analysed figures can be found in the statistical database. A short description of the labour force survey can be found at the end of this article.

Included in the labour force are all employed individuals, including salary earners, independent traders, employers, unemployed people available for work and individuals who carry out unpaid work for family businesses. Not included in the labour force are young full-time students, people unavailable for work due to disease or reduced ability, or people who have left the labour market due to age or other limitations.

The table below shows the labour force and the activity rate in major regions of the country. Eysturoy has the biggest labour force relative to population, at 88%, followed by Suðurstreymoy at just over 86%. At 79%, Sandoy and Suðuroy make up the bottom of the list.


Grouped into gender, Eysturoy has the highest activity rate for men (90%), and Sandoy and Suðuroy have the lowest (80-81%). For women, Norðoyggjar, Suðurstreymur and Eysturoy have the highest activity rate (85-86%), and Sandoy has the lowest (77%).


Europe’s highest activity rate

As previous labour force surveys have also shown, the Faroe Islands have the biggest labour force in Europe relative to the population. Only Iceland comes close in this respect.

The chart below, compiled by Eurostat, compares the Faroe Islands with 35 other European nations.

On this list, the Faroe Islands are on top with an activity rate of 85% for both genders combined. Second is Iceland (81%), followed by Switzerland (76%), Sweden (74%) and then Estonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Denmark, the UK and Lithuania (70-72%).

The average activity rate for the 28 EU member nations (including the UK) is 65%. The European nations with the lowest activity rate are Turkey and Italy, at 56% and 57% respectively.

Men: The Faroe Islands top the list at 87%, followed by Iceland (84%). The EU average is 71%. The lowest activity rate for men is in Croatia, Belgium, France and Italy (63-66%).

Women: At 84%, Faroese women have by far the highest activity rate in Europe. Iceland is second at 77%. The EU average is 60%. Turkish women have the lowest activity rate at 37%, followed by Italy’s 48%.

In all countries except the Faroe Islands, activity rates for women are significantly lower than for men. In the Faroe Islands, the difference is only 3%. In Iceland, the difference is 7% and in Denmark 8%. The EU average difference is 11%. By far the greatest gender difference in terms of activity rates is in Turkey, with 76% for men and 37% for women.


High activity rates for young and old

Common to both genders in the Faroe Islands and in Iceland is that young people in these countries are significantly more active in the job market than in the other European countries, and that the old generations remain longer in the labour market than in the other countries.

In the Faroe Islands and Iceland, the activity rate reaches 75 percent before the age of 20, compared with 50 percent in Denmark and an EU average of about 20 percent.

The difference is even greater for the older generations, especially the oldest segment, the 65-74 year-olds, who in the Faroes have an activity rate of 50 percent, compared to 35 percent in Iceland and a 10-percent EU average.

Faroese women also stand out in the survey. In the age groups 35 and over, they are a long way ahead of women in the other countries, for instance with an activity rate of more than 95% in the 45-55 age group and 45% in the 65-74 age group, compared to a 10% EU average in the 65-74 age group.





About the labour force survey

The labour force data is compiled in accordance with provisions from the International Labour Organization, an agency under the UN. This ensures that the Faroese figures can be directly compared with corresponding figures from other countries.

The size of the labour force is determined from a comprehensive survey of official registers such as the national register, the PAYE system, tax statement register, the VAT register, the employment service and grant registers in the social and education ministries.

The findings are also based on surveys of approximately 1,000 individuals for whom there is insufficient data in the labour force registers. The labour force survey consists of answers from full-time residents in the Faroe Islands aged 15-74. Anyone who spent more than one hour on commercial work in the one-week survey period in November 2019 is classified as engaged in active employment, even if the work was unpaid. Unemployed people are only classified as such if they are actively looking for jobs or are prepared to start work within two weeks. Those who neither work nor are unemployed are classified as occupationally inactive.

Minor changes in labour force figures from 2015 to 2018

Since 2015, the labour force has been determined based on official registers and surveys of individuals not adequately featured in official registers.

After five years of using this survey method, Statistics Faroe Islands this year reviewed its data for the period, which has led to minor changes in the figures from 2015 to 2018. These changes are outlined in brief below.

Since the labour force for 2015-2018 was surveyed, details on some individuals have subsequently been changed in the official registers. For example, some persons previously listed as residents of the Faroe Islands are now listed as residents abroad and vice versa. These subsequent registrations now form the basis of the data for the labour force over this period.

Prior to 2015, the labour force comprised those aged between 16 and 74. This has now been changed to 15-74. It is believed that this change provides more accurate figures about the 15-year-olds.

The calculation method has also been amended for standardisation purposes.

Changes for the activity rate are as follows:

                Old method                    New method

2015                    84.9                             83.8
2016                    85.0                             83.4
2017                    83.2                             83.3
2018                    86.3                             85.3
2019                                                        85.4