Eurostat data shows an upward trend in the years spent on the labour force at a time when this is essential in order to support the benefit system.

In the midst of the debate on the creation of ways to keep workers on the labour force after the usual retirement age in an attempt to ensure the viability of the benefit system (), the European Union (via Eurostat, its official statistics agency) has published the most recent data on length of working life.

The study places the number of years spent on the labour force, for 2017 (and for a person who is 15 years old in that year), at an average of 35.9 years, thus causing one to reflect on whether regard was had to the fact that, since the beginning of the century, the average has increased by 3 years (in Spain, this increase is even greater, exceeding 4 years).  It should be noted, however, that since 2016 the increase has been quantified at 0.3 years, which indicates a trend of sustained and gradual growth.

By country, the highest figure is found in Sweden, where the number of years worked rises to 41.7, while Italy, with 31.6, is the country with the lowest number of years on the labour force. Northern Europe most certainly takes the lead in this area, since Sweden is followed by the Netherlands (40.1 years) and by Norway (39.8 years). Together with Italy, two other Mediterranean countries vie for the lowest number:  Croatia (32.5 years) and Greece (32.7 years).

Spain takes its place only one year below the average, with 35.1 years of working life, a result practically in line with France (35.2 years) and only 3.4 years below Germany.

Again, the situation differs having regard to gender. Men tend to work an average of 38 years in the European Union, while women have a professional career of 33 years (in fact, there are only two countries, Lithuania and Latvia, in which women spend more years on the labour force).

In Spain, the figures disclose a gap of 5 years in a favour of men (37 years worked by men and 32 years by women).  The worst case for women in Europe is that of Italy, where the number of years a woman spends on the labour force is at the lowest (26.8 years), far below the leader, Sweden, where women work a total of 40.7 years.

Nonetheless, that the gap has, in fact, been decreasing progressively over the last 17 years.  In 2000 it was much greater, at 7.2 years.

If the estimate made by the European Union in this study (based on employment data from the Labour Force Survey and from the life expectancy tables of demographic statistics) is on target, young people who are currently beginning their pre-university academic training in Spain will have a horizon of approximately three and a half decades of work in our country.

Will this be sufficient to ensure the level of benefit coverage of the Spanish social security system? In fact, the situation enables us to conclude that, should this trend continue, the number of years spent on the labour force will be greater in the future and that, furthermore, this will be necessary if we are to maintain a level of public benefits such as that currently existing.


Ángel Olmedo Jiménez

Garrigues Labor and Employment Law Department