The Best (and Worst) Countries to Find a Full-Time Job

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According to the International Labour Organization, last year 200 million people across the world were unemployed. Yet, according to performance management consulting firm Gallup, “this number grossly misrepresents the global jobs situation,” as it excludes people that are self-employed, working part time, or who quit the workforce entirely due to hardship.

Based on its survey of residents in 136 countries, Gallup determined that, out the world’s population of 6 billion people, just 1.3 billion worked full-time for an employer last year. In some countries, that figure, called the payroll-to-population ratio, was far worse — 8% or lower — while in others more than 50% of the population had a full-time job working for an employer. Burkina Faso had the lowest payroll-to-population ratio of just 5% in 2013, while the United Arab Emirates had the world’s highest rate at 59%. These are the best (and worst) countries to find a full-time job.

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The countries with the highest payroll-to-population ratios were almost all highly-developed. Notably, the majority of top-scoring countries were also among the top nations in economic competitiveness, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.

In these nations, people have access to basic needs, markets and infrastructure are well-developed, and innovation leads to new opportunities for jobseekers. Sweden and the United States, which have among the world’s highest payroll-to-population ratios, are also among the world’s 10 most competitive nations.

Conversely, many of the countries with the lowest payroll-to-population metrics also possess relatively uncompetitive economies. Three of these countries, Guinea, Haiti, and Sierra Leone are among the bottom five countries for economic competitiveness. This suggests that these nations lack the means to encourage sustained economic growth, as well as access to basic health and education needs, needed to build a sizeable and stable workforce.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Jon Clifton, managing director of the Gallup World Poll pointed out that the conventional measure of unemployment can lead to misleading conclusions about the health of a labor force. “One of the challenges with the traditional ways the [jobs] climate is measured,” Clifton said, is the definition of the workforce, which excludes discouraged workers who stop looking for a job as well as the self-employed.

For most of the world, Clifton explained, self-employment is not motivated by opportunity, but a choice made out of of necessity. “We can actually see that the people that report self employment also report a lower well being than other people around the world.”

One factor that weighs down payroll-to-population ratios in many countries is a lack of formally employed women. In all but one of the nine nations with the world’s lowest payroll-to-population ratios, a lower percentage of women worked full-time for an employer than men. For example, in Burkina Faso 7% of males had a full-time job versus just 2% of all females.

However, Clifton stressed that disparities in gender alone do not explain the low payroll-to-population ratios in many countries. In nations with a low ratio such as Burkina Faso and Haiti, Clifton said, “the problem is not as much about integrating women into the workplace as it is about a job crisis,” which affects both genders and all age groups.” However, Clifton noted that certain nations would have a much higher ratio if women were better-integrated into the workforce.

Yet, even top-rated countries do not always excel at providing jobs for women. In fact, while five nations had a payroll-to-population rate above 50%, and nine had a rate of at least 50% for men, there was no country where half of all females were employed full-time. Russia and Israel, two of the countries with the highest payroll-to-population ratios, came closest, at 46% and 45% of all females, respectively.

Many of the nations with the highest proportion of their population employed are also among the world’s richest. Four countries — Iceland, Sweden, Kuwait, and the United States — all have among the world’s 20 highest GDP per capita figures. The opposite relationship also exists for the countries with lowest proportion of their population employed. All nine countries are also among the poorest in the world.

Clifton noted that many economies where “the government employs a lot of people, whether it is directly with the government or some kind of entity run by the government,” tend to have higher payroll-to-population ratios. Some of these countries have governments that fill the place that the private sector occupies in other countries in creating jobs. Most notably, this includes Belarus, which is often called a dictatorship and enforces policies that border on forced labor.

To determine the best and worst countries to find a full-time job, 24/7 Wall St. examined aggregate payroll-to-population data released by Gallup, a private polling organization. The polling data consisted of surveys of 140 countries from 2013. Additionally, we also reviewed Gallup figures on payroll-to-population ratios by gender as well as the percentage of people living on less than a dollar a day. Data on GDP per capita, GDP growth rates, unemployment, and inflation are from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for 2013. A number of these figures are the fund’s estimates. GDP per capita figures are based on purchasing-power-parity to reflect real differences in the spending ability of residents of each nation. Information on global competitiveness is from the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. Figures on adult literacy rates are from the World Bank and represent the most recent data available since 2000. Further information on the economic conditions within these countries comes from the World Factbook, Human Development Index, and African Development Bank.

These are the best (and worst) countries to find a full-time job.