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Employment in agriculture: Data sources and definitions

Agricultural employment is an important metric used in development. As countries develop and incomes rise, the share of the labor force working in agriculture tends to decline as farming systems become more productive, and people move to other sectors such as industry and services.

At Our World in Data we have constructed a long-term series of agricultural employment, combining recent data for every country in the world with historical series for select countries where this data is available.

Here I detail the sources we use to construct this dataset.

The script that produces this long-run dataset can be accessed in our GitHub repository.

We provide a full citation for each of the sources below. If you cite data for a specific period, please cite the original source. For example, for the period 1991 onwards, please cite the International Labor Organization. You can add “via Our World in Data” if you downloaded the data from us.

Employment in agriculture: Our data sources

Pre-1800: Broadberry and Gardner (2013)

The share of the labor force employed in agriculture prior to 1800 is available for a select number of countries.

This data is sourced from the work of Stephen Broadberry and Leigh Gardner (2013), who compile these estimates for different countries from multiple countries. This series contains long-run data for England; in our dataset we have adopted these figures for the United Kingdom as a whole.

Full citation: Stephen Broadberry and Leigh Gardner (2013). Africa’s Growth Prospects in a European Mirror: A Historical Perspective. Online here.

The underlying sources of this data by country are as follows:

  • Broadberry, S. N., Campbell, B. M. S., & van Leeuwen, B. (2013), “When Did Britain Industrialise? The Sectoral Distribution of the Labour Force and Labour Productivity in Britain, 1381-1851,” Explorations in Economic History, 50(1), 16–27. Online here.
  • Allen, R.C. (2000), “Economic Structure and Agricultural Productivity in Europe, 1300-1800,” European Review of Economic History, 4, 1-26. Online here.

1801 to 1985: Herrendorf et al. (2014)

Data on the number of people employed in agriculture is available for some countries, extending back to 1801.

This data is sourced from the work of Berthold Herrendorf, Richard Rogerson and Ákos Valentinyi (2014).

To preserve a consistent series between Herrendorf et al. (2014) data and the ILO series from 1991 onwards (detailed below), data points from 1986 to 1990 have not been included.

Full citation: Berthold Herrendorf, Richard Rogerson and Akos Valentinyi (2014) – “Growth and Structural Transformation” Handbook of Economic Growth Vol. 2B.

The authors compile this data from multiple sources, listed below:

List of underlying data sources

1991 onwards: International Labor Organization

The data for all countries from the year 1991 onwards is sourced from the International Labor Organization (ILO).

This data is made available through the World Bank’s World Development Indicators.

The ILO publishes statistics on the share of the labor force that is employed in agriculture [it also provides the share working in industry, and services as separate metrics]. You can find its database here.

Full citation: International Labor Organization (ILO)

Derived metric: Number of people working in agriculture

The ILO publishes data on the share of the labor force working in agriculture.

Our World in Data has also calculated the number of people working in agriculture. You find this chart here.

We had done so based on two metrics published by the ILO via the World Bank:

  • Total number of people in the labor force
  • Share of the labor force working in agriculture

We then calculate the number working in agriculture as:

Number working in agriculture = [Total number of people in the labor force] / [Share of labor force working in agriculture] * 100

How is agricultural employment defined?

Employment of any type is quantified as the number of people of working age who are engaged in any activity to produce goods or provide services for pay or profit. This includes those actively working; on temporary absence from a job or in another working-time arrangement. Labor from people not of working age – such as child labor – is not included.

In the context of agriculture, this includes both employees of agricultural activities and subsistence farmers who produce goods for themselves, rather than for the market.

Agriculture in this case not only includes activities in agriculture (such as crop farming or livestock raising) but also hunting, forestry and fishing.

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