The Best Countries for Employment in the Public Sector

The public sector provides a range of government services, and can offer significant employment opportunities.
The public sector provides a range of government services, and can offer significant employment opportunities.

What Is Public Sector Employment?

The public sector refers to the segment of the economy that provides government services. Given the wide range of government types operating around the world, the services provided by any particular public sector may vary. In addition to the types of public services available in a given country, the way those services are managed, financed, and provided can also vary. However, generally speaking the public sector includes public education, municipal water and sewage, parks and nature reserves, telecommunication services, public transportation and infrastructure (including roadways and bridges), public safety (like the police force), and national security (like the military). Public sector employment encompasses any person who works within the government to provide these services.

Measuring the Public Sector Workforce

The public sector workforce is measured as a percentage of the total workforce. This percentage provides information about the size of the government in a particular country and, in some cases, about the scope of services provided to its population. The 2017 Government at a Glance report, published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), presents the percentage of public sector employment for all OECD member countries. Of the 15 countries with the highest percentage of public sector employment, Scandinavian countries hold the top 4 positions. Mid-range public sector employment occurs in Western European and North American countries. South Korea and Japan hold the bottom two spots, with public sector employment rates of 7.6% and 5.9%, respectively. A higher percentage of public sector employment indicates a higher level of reliance on public services.

Scandinavia: Highest Public Sector Employment

Scandinavian countries hold the highest public sector employment percentages of OECD members. These countries include Norway (30%), Denmark (29.1%), Sweden (28.6%), and Finland (24.9%).

Scandinavian countries have long been the subject of public policy debate, as the governments in these countries seem to have established a balanced mix between socialism and capitalism. It is this broad value placed on public services and benefitting the greater good that has resulted in larger-than-average government sizes. In order to carry out the large number of public programs, an equally large number of government employees is needed, resulting in high public sector employment.

The Scandinavian region, which is located in Northern Europe, is often cited as an example of efficient and effective government services. In fact, residents of these countries repeatedly report experiencing a higher quality of life than the rest of the world, as well as having an above average level of happiness. Some researchers believe this has a direct correlation with the public services provided.

Europe and North America

Several Western European and North American countries also made the top 15 list of high public sector employment, averaging between 21.4% and 10.6%. These countries include: France (21.4%), Canada (18.2%), Greece (18%), the United Kingdom (16.4%), Spain (15.7%), the United States (15.3%), Italy (13.6%), Turkey (12.4%), and Germany (10.6%).

Of these countries, the United Kingdom, Spain, the United States, Italy, Turkey, and Germany are below the total OECD average of roughly 18% public sector employment. The government of Germany has been actively seeking to reduce its size. In fact, in 2011, Germany worked to decrease the total number of public sector employees, cutting around 10,000 positions by 2012. Public sector jobs there are divided into two sections: public employees and civil servants. Only civil servants are protected from losing their jobs during periods of restructuring.

The government of Greece, which has almost the same percentage of public sector employees as the OECD average, has undergone significant changes over the last decade. For example, between 2009 and 2015, this country saw an 18% decrease in the number of public sector jobs. The reason for this decrease is attributed to the restructuring requirements of its loan packages. These loans were taken as a result of the global economic crisis and require the government of Greece to reduce the public sector and spending in order to invest in and improve private market competitiveness.

Turkey, on the other hand, has been working toward increasing the size of its government and public services. In fact, the biggest growth in public sector employment is found in this country. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of individuals employed by the government of Turkey grew by 3.9%.


Only two Asian countries made the list of high public sector employment: South Korea (7.6%) and Japan (5.9%).

Of the individuals working in the public sector in South Korea, roughly one-third are considered irregular employees. The current administration has made increasing the public sector and regularizing its employees one of its top priorities. The OECD ranked this country as number 1 in its Open, Useful, Reusable Government data index.

The 5.9% public sector employment of Japan represents just over 640,000 national level employees and around 2.86 million municipal level employees. Women make up only 41.9% of all public sector employees in this country, which is the lowest percentage found in any OECD country. Under the current prime minister, Japan has initiated a program known as Womenomics, which is designed to encourage women to join the public sector labor force by improving their work conditions.

OECD Public Sector Trends

The governments of OECD member countries have experienced some recent shared changes, particularly in a move toward increased transparency. In fact, 17 of 35 OECD members have implemented a plan for increased transparency and open government. Transparency in the public sector is important because it allows residents to see what their government is or is not accomplishing, thereby holding it accountable. Additionally, transparency provides residents with a sense of inclusion, which increases their involvement in the public sector.

Since the global economic crisis of 2008, residents of OECD countries have reported decreasing trust in their governments. Today, only around 42% of residents say they trust the public sector in their country. As transparency increases throughout OECD governments, the level of trust reported by residents is also expected to increase.

The Best Countries for Employment in the Public Sector

RankCountryGovernment Employment as a Percentage of Total Employment, 2015
8United Kingdom16.4
10United States15.3
14South Korea7.6

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