Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2011
Data source: ILO, Key Indicators of the Labour Market (KILM), Sixth Edition.

Over the past two decades the Asia-Pacific region has experienced a structural change in employment in 2009, 41% of employment was in the agricultural sector as compared to 54% in 1991.

Total employment in the region grew by 1.1% in 2009, an increase that is just slightly more than the 2009 population growth (1.0%). Employment growth in 2009 was slower than the average annual employment growth of 1.5% from 2005 to 2008 and even slower than the 1.7% of 2000 to 2005.

The slow down in employment growth was not unique to the Asia-Pacific region. Worldwide, employment grew by only 0.7% in 2009, in comparison with the annual rate of 1.8% between 2005 and 2008. Employment growth in Africa in 2009 was faster than any other region of the world, at 2.5%; however, between 2005 and 2008 Africa exhibited higher annual employment growth (an average 3.2% per annum). In North America, employment shrank by 3.4% in 2009, much less than the average annual employment growth between 2005 and 2008 (1.0%).

The same trend was reflected within subregions of Asia and the Pacific. South and South-West Asia had 2.1% employment growth during 2009, higher than in the other subregions but lower than the average annual growth rate of 2.5% between 2005 and 2008. Similarly, employment in South-East Asia grew by 1.6% in 2009, in comparison with annual growth of 2.1% between 2005 and 2008. In the Pacific, employment in 2009 was the same as in 2008 (0% growth); whereas it had increased by 2.0% per annum between 2005 and 2008. In North and Central Asia employment contracted by 0.8% in 2009, although it had increased 1.7% between 2005 and 2008. In East and North-East Asia, all countries had either negative or small growth in employment.

Figure III.10 – Index of change in total employment, Asia-Pacific, subregions, 2000 to 2009

Figure III.10  Index of change in total employment, Asia-Pacific, subregions, 2000 to 2009

Among individual Asian and Pacific countries, employment growth in 2009 was strongest in Bhutan (at 5.7%), Cambodia (3.7%), the Islamic Republic of Iran (5.3%), Maldives (7.0%), Nepal (3.1%), Pakistan (3.8%), Papua New Guinea (3.5%), Solomon Islands (5.5%), Tajikistan (4.2%), Timor-Leste (3.8%) and Turkmenistan (3.5%). The high rates of 2009 growth reflected growth in the underlying working-age population and labour force in many of the countries.

In 2009, China with an estimated 763 million workers, India with 454 million and Indonesia with 106 million together accounted for 43% of world employment and 68% of employment in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2009, the shares of East and North-East Asia and North and Central Asia in total world employment declined, while in South and South-West Asia and South-East Asia they increased in line with their rates of population growth and labour force participation.

Labour productivity

An economy needs growth in labour productivity to expand decent employment opportunities with fair and equitable remuneration. In the absence of that growth, living standards cannot improve, since improvement depends on decent and productive job opportunities and growth in real wages.

Globally, annual labour productivity contracted by 1.4% in 2009 with all global regions except Asia and the Pacific and North America exhibiting a contraction. Asia and the Pacific showed the largest growth in productivity at 1.4%, which is smaller than the 5.3% annual average growth between 2005 and 2008. Among the Asia-Pacific subregions, growth in labour productivity slowed almost everywhere between 2008 and 2009, the exception being in South and South-West Asia where it grew from 1.3% in 2008 to 2.4% in 2009. In South-East Asia, productivity growth decelerated in all countries except Indonesia and Viet Nam.

In 2009, countries experiencing the highest rates of productivity growth in the region included Azerbaijan (8.8%), Bangladesh (3.5%), China (8.4%), India (5.4%), Sri Lanka (3.8%) and Tajikistan (8.5%). Those experiencing the largest contractions in labour productivity included Armenia (-15.4%), Cambodia (-3.3%), Japan (-3.8%), Kazakhstan (-5.7%), Malaysia (-3.9%), Russian Federation (-5.9%), Thailand (-4.0%) and Turkey (-5.4%).

Employment by sector

Agriculture remains a major employer, although its relative importance is declining. In 2009, agriculture employed 53% of the workforce in Africa and 41% in Asia and the Pacific. In many regions the services sector is the leading employment sector, such as in North America at 80%; in Europe at 67%; and in Latin America and the Caribbean at 62%. The services sector employed only 36% of the workforce in Asia and the Pacific. These figures, however, only partially illustrate the importance of services in employment, as measurement differences often exist among countries and regions. For example, informal service-sector activities like street vending are common in Asia and the Pacific; employment in such activities is most often not captured in national statistics.

Figure III.11 – Employment by sector, Asia-Pacific and subregions, 1991 and 2009

Figure III.11  Employment by sector, Asia-Pacific and subregions, 1991 and 2009

In the Asian and Pacific subregions, the declining share of agricultural employment over time paralleled rises in the services sector, which in 2009 ranged from 29% in South and South-West Asia to 65% in the Pacific. In North and Central Asia, employment in agriculture has also historically been much lower than that in services; in 2009, services accounted for 56% of total employment. In the region, industry has the smallest share of employment, although the share of employees in industry has risen over time. In 2009, industry accounted for less than one quarter of total employment.

Worldwide, the proportion of the working-age (15 and above) population that is employed – the employment-to-population ratio – has hovered between 62 and 61 since 1991. Throughout that period, the Asia-Pacific region had a higher proportion than any other subregion, at 66 in 1991 and 64 in 2009. One of the reasons for the fall was a natural decline from a very high rate in China as the country developed, driven by such positive factors as increased participation among youth in education, rather than adverse labour market trends. Bangladesh, Japan, Georgia, Myanmar, Thailand, Turkey, and Viet Nam as well as Hong Kong, China also saw high declines (more than 4 percentage points) in the employment-to-population ratio. In 1991, six countries had an employment-to-population ratio of more than 75; in 2009 only Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic had a ratio over 75.

Women are less likely than men to be employed, especially in South and South-West Asia. In 2009, the male employment-to-population ratio was 78 as compared to the female ratio of 51. The South and South-West Asia female employment-to-population ratio has moderately increased from 34 in 1991. Six of the 10 countries in the subregions had a ratio of less than 35; in all six of these countries, the male employment-to-population ratio was more than double the female ratio.

Figure III.12 – Employment to population ratio by sex, Asia and the Pacific, 2009

Figure III.12  Employment to population ratio by sex, Asia and the Pacific, 2009

Vulnerable employment

Many employed persons in the Asia-Pacific region, as in Africa, are self-employed as “ownaccount” or contributing family workers (note that “other self-employed” includes own-account and contributing family workers). Own-account or contributing family workers are often in “vulnerable employment” – generating low incomes and having no social protection. Highincome countries generally have only a small proportion of own-account workers while most are considered employees. Low income countries generally have a much lower proportion of employees and a high proportion of own-account workers.

In Asia and the Pacific (of the countries with available data), Indonesia and Thailand have the highest proportion of other self-employed persons. On the other hand, Australia; Hong Kong, China; Japan; and New Zealand have the highest proportion of employees.


With 64% of the working-age population in Asia and the Pacific being employed in 2009, the remainder was either unemployed or not economically active (which includes discouraged workers, as well as persons not seeking employment for other reasons). The Asia-Pacific unemployment rate has been consistently lower than the world average since 1991. The unemployment rate has been stable between 1991 and 2009 with a high of 5.2% and a low of 4.4%. Unemployment in 2009 stood at 5.0%. Asia-Pacific unemployment has fluctuated only slightly with the economic downturns in the past two decades.

Among all the Asian subregions, unemployment rates are highest in North and Central Asia, where most workers are paid employees.

The female average unemployment rate in Asia- Pacific is similar to the male unemployment rate; however, male unemployment has been slightly higher (less than 0.5 percentage points) over the last two decades. In 2009, the greatest differences in male and female unemployment were in the countries of East and North-East Asia.

Unemployment is usually higher among younger people. Worldwide, and in the Asia-Pacific region, youth unemployment (15-to-24-years age group) is more than twice as high as total unemployment. In the Asia-Pacific, youth unemployment has been increasing over the last 18 years. However, youth unemployment in North and Central Asia and the Pacific has declined.

Figure III.13 – Employment by status, Asia and the Pacific, 2009

Figure III.13  Employment by status, Asia and the Pacific, 2009

Casualty of the crisis: Youth in the Asia-Pacific labour market

In the region there is a growing problem of youth “discouragement” in the labour market,1 which implies that unemployment rates understate the extent to which the global economic crisis has depressed young people’s employment opportunities. In many countries, a wide gap opened between the actual size of the youth labour force in 2009 and the size that would have been expected had historical trends from 2002 to 2007 continued.

In 56 countries across the world, for which comparable monthly or quarterly participation data are available, an estimated 1.7 million fewer young people were in the labour market in 2009 than long-term trends would have indicated (based on the difference between the actual youth unemployment rate in 2009, and the gap between the actual and expected economically active youth population). Of the 20 countries with the largest gap in the actual and projected youth labour force, 7 are in Asia and the Pacific. Those absent youth, if they had been actively looking for work and had shown up in the labour market, would have added 5.7% to the labour force in Hong Kong, China; 6.0% in the Republic of Korea; 4.0% in Sri Lanka; and 4.3% in Thailand.

Youth clearly face formidable challenges in finding employment in many countries, as attested by rising unemployment among them. The background of changes in labour-force participation of other population groups enhances understanding of the problem in its overall context. Thus unemployment rates do not provide a complete picture of the effects of economic crisis or downturn.

Official youth unemployment rates and adjusted rates accounting for reduced labour force participation, 20 countries with the largest gaps, 2009

1 This text box is based on data from: ILO, Global Employment Trends 2011: The Challenge of a Jobs Recovery (Geneva, 2011), p. 16. Available from—en/index.htm.
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Table III.10 Employment and labour productivity
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Table III.11 Labour force
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Table III.12 Employment by sector
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Table III.13 Employment by status

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Table III.14 Unemployment rate
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Table III.15 Youth unemployment rate
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