Back to Top

 Skip navigation

Principal Economic Status

Open in Excel:

Economic status

The labour force is comprised of all persons at work, looking for their first job or unemployed, while students, homemakers, retired persons and those unable to work are categorised as being not in the labour force.

The number of persons in the labour force stood at 2.3 million in 2016, up 3.2 per cent on 2011. This compares to an increase of nearly 6 per cent between 2006 and 2011, and a 37.5 per cent increase during the ten year period between 1996 and 2006.

The number of persons at work stood at 2 million, up 11 per cent since 2011 while the number of unemployed persons was 297,396, down 30.0 per cent. The number of persons looking after the home/family continued to decline, down 10.1 per cent over the five years. The number of retired persons increased to 545,407, up 88,013 or 19.2 per cent on 2011 and has more than doubled since 1996.

The labour force participation rate, which is measured as the percentage of all adults who are at work or unemployed has fallen to 61.4 per cent – down from a high of 62.5 per cent in 2006. This is largely due to the substantial increase in the number of retired persons as seen in Figure 1.1. Prior to 2006, the proportion of persons in the labour force increased steadily between 1986 and 2006 as an increasing number of women entered the workforce. There was a corresponding decrease in persons looking after the home/family.

 (Note: The official labour force and unemployment estimates are based on the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS). The results in this report differ for methodological reasons from these official estimates. See Appendix 2 for a full explanation.) 

Others not in labour forceUnable to work due to permanent sickness or disabilityRetiredLooking after home/familyStudent or pupilUnemployedPersons at work
Table 1.1 Persons aged 15 or over by economic status, 2006 - 2016
 200620112016Change 2011 - 2016% change 2011 - 2016
Persons at work1,930,0421,807,3602,006,641199,28111.0
Looking for first job29,37234,16631,434-2,7328.0
Labour force (A)2,109,4982,232,2032,304,03771,8343.2
Not in labour force (B)1,265,9011,376,4591,451,27674,8175.4
Population aged 15 or over (=A+B)3,375,3993,608,6623,755,313146,6514.1
Labour force participation rate62.5%61.9%61.4% 
Unemployment rate8.5%19.0%12.9%  


In Census 2016 the unemployment rate for women was 12 per cent compared with an unemployment rate of 13.7 per cent for men. The number of unemployed men dropped by over 100,000 or 37.7 per cent between 2011 and 2016 and the number of unemployed women dropped by 24,050 or 16 per cent.

The unemployment rates have fallen across almost all age categories for males and females, although there was a slight increase in male unemployment among those aged 65 years or over. The increase in unemployment in this age group was a result of a notable increase in persons aged 65 years exactly who were unemployed. This is likely a result of the increase in retirement age to 66.

In the census, unemployment is split into two categories, those who are looking for their first regular job and those who have lost or given up their previous job. The majority (89.4%) of unemployed persons have had previous regular employment. However, while the number of unemployed persons who had previous employment dropped by 31.9 per cent (from 390,677 in 2011 to 265,962 to 2016) the number of persons who were looking for their first regular job dropped by just 8 per cent (from 34,166 in 2011 to 31,434 in 2016).

65 years and over8.18840089328017.25652778493073
55 - 64 years14.859490986214213.5134568332751
45 - 54 years12.137687331772510.1151426183579
35 - 44 years12.46957535465889.63552746206366
25 - 34 years13.956412273303111.8968080517101
15 - 24 years31.877487837240223.6845151283654
65 years and over4.11029234114524.41892512632062
55 - 64 years20.564530878497815.6074627813896
45 - 54 years18.752831043333812.2180323716497
35 - 44 years19.107001923740910.7895753849372
25 - 34 years23.319726514849514.0067721259022
15 - 24 years44.654951086715927.2906374679484

Youth unemployment

The youth unemployment rate is the number of unemployed 15 to 24 year olds expressed as a percentage of the youth labour force. The youth unemployment rate was 25.6 per cent in April 2016, down from 38.7 per cent in April 2011. The number of unemployed youths fell by 34,125 or 41.5 per cent. There are a number of possible explanations for this, most notably the increase in persons not in the labour force (mostly students), up 21,238 and an increase in persons at work of 9,089. Some of the decrease could also be explained by the fall in the population in this age cohort, down 3,798, due to low births in the 1990s and net outward migration between 2011 and 2016.

Figure 1.4 shows the youth unemployment levels by field of study for 2011 and 2016. The large drop in unemployment for persons who studied Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction does not correspond with an increase in young persons at work. In fact it is due mainly to a decrease in persons who have trained in this area, down 10,046 since 2011. This shows how the construction industry crash may have had a bearing on the third level courses chosen by school leavers. Whereas the number of persons whose main field of study was Science, Mathematics and Computing increased by 2,496 and the number of persons working in the area increased by 2,221.

Social sciences, Business and Law20.338110357847812.6805778491172
Science, Mathematics and Computing32.406303800821118.1564245810056
Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction34.395416086537411.0089106064961
Agriculture and Veterinary25.778732545649813.4887375589314
Health and Welfare21.89719310111614.0376150460184
Services (incl. other subjects)28.532804614275418.8311232722936
Not Stated (including unknown)49.004799060903234.6755621447986