Why Italians have the 'shortest working lives in Europe'

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Why Italians have the 'shortest working lives in Europe'
A worker at a shoe factory in Italy. Photo: AFP

People in Italy work fewer years during their lifetime on average than in any other nation in Europe, new figures seem to show. But here's why that's not actually a good thing.


People in Italy have the shortest expected working life of any EU country, according to new data from the international number crunchers at Eurostat.

The average young Italian today can expect to spend just 31.8 years in the labour market – more than a decade less than some of their peers in other countries.

Sweden had the highest working life expectancy, at 41.9 years, the figures show, followed by the Dutch (40.5) and the British (39.2).

The average expected duration of working life across the EU was 36.2 years, which was 3.3 years longer than in 2000 when the data was first collected.

So why is the average working lifespan for Italians so low?

You may assume that the figure is connected to average working hours, average retirement ages, or that perhaps Italians have perfected the work-life balance in a way that northern Europeans can only dream of.

But in fact, it has much more to do with the high level of unemployment in the country.

Eurostat warns that the figure is calculated based on the total adult population, including all people of working age whether or not they actually have a job, and so is “strongly influenced by the number of inactive people in a country", meaning this is actually bad news for Italians and for the country's economy.

Italy famously has one of Europe's highest unemployment rates, which currently stands at 9.9 percent, while the youth unemployment rate is at 28 percent, according to Eurostat figures.

Italy has the highest number of “economically inactive” young people in Europe, with some 30 percent of young Italians classed as "NEETs" - not in employment, education or training.

READ ALSO: Voting with their feet: Young Italians are leaving Italy in huge numbers

The Eurostat data also shows that 40 percent of all Italian graduates remain unemployed three years after finishing their studies.

While unemployment levels have been slowly going down, data shows that precarious short-term work contracts are on the increase in Italy.

Then there's Italy's large and growing workplace gender gap.

Italy is also the EU country where women have the shortest average working lifetime (27 years), the Eurostat figures show.


Women's average working lifetimes were lower than men's in all countries surveyed. But Italy had the second-largest gender gap (second only to Malta) with women working 9.4 years fewer than men on average.

Again, this isn't because women aren't working hard - it's most likely to be due to the startlingly high levels of unemployment among women in Italy.

Fewer than half of working-age Italian women are in employment, according to the OECD. Many women say the prohibitive cost of childcare, as well as social attitudes, make it impossible for them to work after starting a family.

Of those in work, one in four Italian women loses her job within a year of giving birth, according to Italian statistics bureau Istat – and the risk increases with each child.

In Italy, which does not have a comprehensive child benefit scheme in place, successive governments have repeatedly sidelined policies providing affordable childcare and shared parental leave. 

The latest Italian budget aims to improve things for working parents, though critics say these policy changes won't go far enough, limited by their high cost to the cash-strapped Italian government.



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