The role of statistics in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

What are the SDGs?

The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly. The 17 SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. They cover a broad range of social and economic development issues, including poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, the environment and social justice, with a focus on the most vulnerable and a commitment that "no one will be left behind."

The role of decent work

The importance of decent work in achieving sustainable development is highlighted by Goal 8, which aims to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.

The role of statistics

The role of national statistical offices (NSOs)

High quality data (i.e., reliable, timely, consistent and comparable data) are required in order to measure and monitor progress towards the SDGs. NSOs play a pivotal role in the areas of data collection, coordination, reporting and validation of statistics for the SDGs. It is the responsibility of NSOs to provide statistics to international agencies such as the ILO to support the measurement of progress on SDGs. This includes identifying appropriate data sources and methodologies to produce the SDG indicators.
  • Compiling national statistics from NSOs and Ministries of Labour
  • Verifying country data and metadata and ensuring international comparability
  • Developing international standards and methods for calculating SDG indicators that are new for official statistics and where commonly agreed methodologies do not yet exist (see work plans for Tier 3 indicators)
  • Estimating global and regional aggregates
  • Analysing data and identifying data gaps and key trends
  • Reporting data and metadata to the UN on an annual basis and contributing to the annual SDG progress reports
  • Strengthening national capacity for producing high-quality data on SDG labour market indicators
The ILO Department of Statistics serves as the focal point for all inputs provided to the UN Statistics Division, with key contributions from other departments and field offices throughout the ILO.

Tier Classification for SDG indicators:

Tier 1: Indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, and data are regularly produced by countries for at least 50 per cent of countries and of the population in every region where the indicator is relevant.
Tier 2: Indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, but data are not regularly produced by countries.
Tier 3: No internationally established methodology or standards are yet available for the indicator, but methodology/standards are being (or will be) developed or tested.

ILO statistics for the SDGs

This section provides access to ILOSTAT data and metadata for indicators under the responsibility of the ILO.

TARGET 1.1 By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day
INDICATOR 1.1.1 Proportion of population below the international poverty line, by sex, age,
employment status and geographical location (Tier 1): Data | Metadata

TARGET 1.3 Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable
INDICATOR 1.3.1 Proportion of population covered by social protection floors/systems by sex, distinguishing children, unemployed persons, older persons, persons with disabilities, pregnant women, newborns, work-injury victims and the poor and the vulnerable (Tier 2): Data | Metadata

TARGET 1.a Ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, in order to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions.
INDICATOR 1.a.2 Proportion of total government spending on essential services (education, health and social protection) (Tier 2): Tier 3 Work Plan webpage

TARGET 5.5 Ensure women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life
INDICATOR 5.5.2 Proportion of women in managerial positions (Tier 1): Data | Metadata

TARGET 8.2 Achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labour-intensive sectors
INDICATOR 8.2.1 Annual growth rate of real GDP per employed person (Tier 1): Data | Metadata

TARGET 8.3 Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services.
INDICATOR 8.3.1 Proportion of informal employment in non-agricultural employment, by sex (Tier 2): National data | Harmonized data | Metadata

TARGET 8.5 By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.
INDICATOR 8.5.1 Average hourly earnings of female and male employees, by occupation, age and persons with disabilities (Tier 2): Data | Metadata
INDICATOR 8.5.2 Unemployment rate, by sex, age and persons with disabilities (Tier 1): Data by sex and age | Data by sex and disability status | Metadata

TARGET 8.6 By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training.
INDICATOR 8.6.1 Proportion of youth (aged 15-24 years) not in education, employment or training (Tier 1): Data | Metadata
TARGET 8.7 Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.
INDICATOR 8.7.1 Proportion and number of children aged 5-17 years engaged in child labour, by sex and age (Tier 2): Proportion | Number | Metadata

TARGET 8.8 Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment.
INDICATOR 8.8.1 Frequency rates of fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries, by sex and migrant status (Tier 2): Fatal data | Non-fatal data | Metadata
INDICATOR 8.8.2 Level of national compliance of labour rights (freedom of association and collective bargaining) based on International Labour Organization (ILO) textual sources and national legislation, by sex and migrant status (Tier 3): Tier 3 Work Plan webpage

TARGET 8.b By 2020, develop and operationalize a global strategy for youth employment and implement the Global Jobs Pact of the International Labour Organization
INDICATOR 8.b.1 Existence of a developed and operationalized national strategy for youth employment, as a distinct strategy or as part of a national employment strategy (Tier 3): Tier 3 Work Plan webpage

TARGET 9.2 Promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and significantly raise industry's share of employment.
INDICATOR 9.2.2 Manufacturing employment as a proportion of total employment (Tier 1): Data | Metadata

TARGET 10.4 Adopt policies, especially fiscal, wage and social protection policies, and progressively achieve gender equality.
INDICATOR 10.4.1 Labour share of GDP, comprising wages and social protection transfers (Tier 2): Data | Metadata

Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration.
INDICATOR 10.7.1 Recruitment cost borne by employee as a proportion of yearly income earned in country of destination (Tier 3): Tier 3 Work Plan webpage

TARGET 14.c Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, as recalled in paragraph 158 of “The future we want”.

Number of countries making progress in ratifying, accepting and implementing through legal, policy and institutional frameworks, ocean-related instruments that implement international law, as reflected in the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea, for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and their resources (Tier 3): Tier 3 Work Plan webpage

Key trends

Last update: February 2018

Working poverty

The global working poverty rate declined significantly over the past two decades, falling from 26.9 per cent in 2000 to 9.2 per cent in 2017, with reductions seen in all regions of the world. The most notable progress over this period occurred in Eastern and South-eastern Asia. Since 2002, Central and Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have continuously registered the highest regional working poverty rates.

Working poverty affects young workers (aged 15 to 24) much more than adults. In fact, from 2000 to 2017 the global youth working poverty rate is consistently over 6 percentage points higher than the adult working poverty rate. Even though the working poverty rates of both age groups are steadily declining, the adult working poverty rate has decreased faster since 2000.

Social Protection

Despite significant progress in extending social protection in many parts of the world, the human right to social security is not yet a reality for a majority of the world’s population. Based on 2016 estimates, only 45 per cent of the world's population was effectively covered by at least one social protection cash benefit, while the majority – 55 per cent – remain unprotected.

On the positive side, a majority of older persons were covered by social protection: 68 per cent of people above retirement age received a pension, which is associated with the expansion of both non-contributory and contributory pensions. However, data also show a global deficit of social protection for other groups: only 22 per cent of the unemployed receive unemployment cash benefits, 28 per cent of persons with severe disabilities receive disability cash benefits, only 35 per cent of children worldwide enjoy effective access to social protection, and only 41 per cent of women giving birth receive maternity cash benefits. Furthermore, coverage by social assistance cash benefits is as low as 25 per cent for vulnerable people, comprising children, people of working age and older persons not protected by contributory schemes.

Labour productivity

At the global level, labour productivity, measured as output produced per employed person (in constant 2005 US$), grew by 2.1 per cent in 2017, the fastest growth registered since 2010. This was driven by strong productivity gains in Eastern Asia and South-eastern Asia, partially offset by modestly negative growth in Africa. The only regions having registered labour productivity decreases since 2010 are Latin America and the Caribbean (2014-2016) and Sub-Saharan Africa (2015-2017).

Informal employment

Informality has multiple adverse consequences for individuals, firms and societies and thus for sustainable development. At the individual level, the main consequence is higher exposure to the most pervasive decent work deficits, often characterized by non-compliance with the fundamental principles and rights at work, the absence of quality employment, higher risks of working poverty and the absence of social dialogue. Overall, 61.2 per cent of workers around the world were in informal employment in 2016. Excluding the agricultural sector where informality is especially pervasive, still more than half (50.5 per cent) of all workers were in informal employment, with a higher incidence registered among men (53.1 per cent) as compared with women (46.4 per cent).


The global unemployment rate stood at 5.6 per cent in 2017, slightly higher than the previous year, but down from 6.4 per cent in 2000. The long-term declining trend in global unemployment has not been smooth or uninterrupted: it hit its lowest point in this period in 2007 (5.3 per cent), rose sharply to 5.9 per cent in 2009, and has been modestly declining since then. Youth are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, and have not benefited from a similar long-term decline in unemployment, with the global youth unemployment rate at 13 per cent in 2017, versus 13.1 per cent in 2000. Young women are particularly vulnerable, as their unemployment rates are continuously higher than those of their male counterparts.