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Economic activity

Economic activity tells us whether an individual is in paid employment, and if not, whether they are actively seeking employment.

Census questions on economic activity are only completed by those of working age. In 1971, the lower age limit for those in employment was 15, but in 1981 this increased to 16 in line with the increase in school leaving age.

The categories for the economic activity question have changed with each census. All of the censuses distinguish between those that were employed the previous week, those that were seeking work, and those who were retired. The other categories have changed, as follows:

  • The 'housewife' or 'homemaker' and 'permanently sick' categories were introduced in 1981 and have remained since then. In 1971, there was space in question B7 for the form-filler to write in other categories such as these.
  • Students have always been identified; if not in the question on economic activity, then elsewhere, in a separate question.
  • The 'seeking work' category has also been present at all censuses from 1971-2001, but in 1991 and 2001 this group included those who were prevented from seeking work by temporary sickness, whereas these groups were identified separately in 1971 and 1981.
  • People 'waiting to take up a job' were identified separately from 1981 onwards.

The distinction between part-time and full-time work is only included in 1981 and 1991, and only for the job that the person was doing last week. In 1971 and 2001, there is a question on hours worked which allows this to be determined, but in both cases this is only for a job that the person was doing last week. In 1981 and 1991, 'part-time' meant 30 hours or less per week.

Economic activity is available in the LS as the variables ECONP7, ECONACT8 and ECONPO9. Under the ECONPO9 coding scheme, students who are also in paid employment are coded as economically active, whereas for ECONACT8 and ECONP7 they would have been coded inactive. To help with continuity, there is also a variable ECONPO89, which codes all 1991 students as economically inactive. The variables for 2001 are ECOP0 and ECOP80, which identifies students separately regardless of whether they were economically active, which is consistent with the 1981 and 1991 variables (ECONACT8 and ECONPO89).