World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018


This report was prepared by the Labour Market Trends and Policy Evaluation Unit of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Research Department. It provides an overview of global employment trends and gives estimates of key labour market indicators. 

The report focuses on different aspects of the labour market, such as unemployment, informality, vulnerable employment, working poverty and gender disparities. It also assesses employment and social trends by region and income level. Finally, it addresses population ageing and other future challenges, and offers some solutions as well.

The report says that, as compared to previous years, the global unemployment rate in 2018 remains high; vulnerable employment is on the rise; and the pace of working poverty reduction is slowing down. (‘Working poverty’ refers to those who work but whose earnings are less than what they would require to lift their families and themselves above a given poverty line. The concept looks at total family income rather than that of an individual breadwinner). 

While developed countries are expected to enter their sixth consecutive year of decreasing unemployment rates, developing countries are expected to see unemployment rise by half a million a year in 2018 and 2019. In developing and emerging countries, persistent poor-quality employment and working poverty pose the main challenges.


  1. The global unemployment rate is expected to fall from 5.6 per cent in 2017 to 5.5 per cent in 2018, a turnaround after three years of rising unemployment rates.

  2. The total number of unemployed people in 2018 is expected to remain stable at more than 192 million. In 2019, the global unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged, whereas the number of unemployed is projected to grow by 1.3 million.

  3. Women are less likely to participate in the labour market and to find a job when they do; they face a global gender gap of over 26 percentage points. Women can often access only inferior quality jobs and the rates of vulnerable employment are consistently higher for women than for men across Africa, Asia and the Pacific and the Arab States.

  4. The global youth unemployment rate stands at 13 per cent, three times higher than the adult rate of 4.3 per cent. Gender inequalities are already established among young workers, making future progress in reducing such gaps even more difficult.

  5. The share of the working population living in extreme poverty continues to decline – it reached 11.2 per cent in developing and emerging countries in 2017. However, in the same countries, there were still around 300 million workers in 2017 living in extreme poverty. And, together with the moderately poor, the total figure was 700 million.

  6. Working poverty in Asia and the Pacific is expected to continue its downward trend over the next couple of years. As of 2017, 23.4 per cent of the working population was living in extreme or moderate poverty, down from over 44 per cent in 2007. Despite this progress, working poverty remains high, notably in South Asia.

  7. The high incidence of informality is evident in the agriculture and the non-agriculture sectors in South and South-East Asia, where it. prevents the reduction of working poverty. Informality affects around 90 per cent of all workers in India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Nepal.

  8. The traditional path of structural transformation, in which employment shifts from agriculture to manufacturing to services, is believed to have the potential to reduce vulnerable and informal employment. However, the current wave of structural transformation, in which employment has shifted from agriculture straight to services, is likely to slow down the pace of informal and vulnerable employment reduction.

  9. Structural transformation has been proceeding slowly in South Asia, where agricultural employment still represents 59 per cent of total employment, while manufacturing accounts for only 12 per cent, and services for about 24 per cent.

  10. In lower middle-income countries such as India, almost 40 per cent of workers are employed in agriculture, while in upper middle-income countries, it’s 16 per cent and in developed countries, 3 per cent. The employment share in agriculture is declining everywhere. The decline though is predicted to be most pronounced in lower middle-income countries, where it will drop by an additional 6 percentage points by 2025.

  11. In all countries, informal employment is most common in agriculture and construction. In developing and lower middle-income countries, informal employment in these sectors is, on average, more than 40 per cent of total employment. It is also notably high in manufacturing and market services.

  12. In India, the share of informal employment has risen within almost all manufacturing industries. This is partly, the report says, because of labour market rigidities that prevent modern manufacturing from creating employment opportunities.

  13. For a large share of the elderly in emerging and developing countries, continuing to work after the age of retirement is the only way to escape poverty because  they are often not covered by any social protection scheme. In many low-income countries, less than 20 per cent of older persons over the retirement age receive a pension.

    Focus and Factoids by Keiu Kikas.    


International Labour Office, Geneva


International Labour Organisation


22 Jan, 2018