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Labor force participation

Codes and Frequencies

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LABFORCE is a dichotomous variable identifying whether a person participated in the labor force. Persons aged 15 and below reporting any gainful occupation are categorized as 1 - No, not in labor force.

Participation is defined as reporting any gainful occupation, as recorded in OCC50US for the United States and OCCHISCO elsewhere. Note that gainful employment definitions of labor force participation are different from the modern concept of labor force participation, defined as working or seeking work within a specific reference week. This means that those who are not working are coded as out of the labor force. See source variables for further descriptions.

Housewives, students, and those who reported "retired" in their occupation, have been classified as code 1 - No, not in labor force. Unclassifiable includes those with a non-occupational response.


Several groups of workers may be enumerated in different ways under the gainful employment definition.

  • Seasonal or irregular workers who did not work in the week before the census may nevertheless report their customary occupation.
  • People who have retired but nevertheless identify with a particular occupation may report an occupation.
  • Some scholars argue that the labor force and gainful employment definitions create an additional disparity in the measurement of married female labor. Historically, occupational status was inherently somewhat ambiguous for married women, who might have considered their principal occupation "housewife" despite other labor they performed. The labor force concept instituted in 1940 removed some of this ambiguity by treating even a single hour of paid employment as labor force participation. For years prior to 1940, users should carefully examine the enumerator instructions for each year with respect to women and children, since the criteria for gainful employment changed between censuses. Even later censuses applied special rules for the treatment of unpaid family labor.

For the United States 1850 census, data on occupation were collected for free males age 15 and older. For consistency with other NAPP samples, males age 15 and below reporting any gainful occupation are categorized in LABFORCE as 1 - No, not in labor force. All women are categorized as 1 - No, not in labor force in LABFORCE. Women and males age 15 and below are distinguished as 9 - Not in universe in the unharmonized source variable.


  • Canada 1871: All persons
  • Canada 1881: All persons
  • Canada 1891: All persons
  • Canada 1901: All persons
  • Canada 1911: All persons
  • Denmark 1787: All persons
  • Denmark 1801: All persons
  • Great Britain 1851a: All persons
  • Great Britain 1851c: All persons
  • Great Britain 1861a: All persons
  • Great Britain 1861b: All persons
  • Great Britain 1871b: All persons
  • Great Britain 1881a: All persons
  • Great Britain 1881b: All persons
  • Great Britain 1891a: All persons
  • Great Britain 1891b: All persons
  • Great Britain 1901a: All persons
  • Great Britain 1901b: All persons
  • Great Britain 1911: All persons
  • Iceland 1703: All persons
  • Iceland 1729: All persons
  • Iceland 1801: All persons
  • Iceland 1901: All persons
  • Iceland 1910: All persons
  • Mecklenburg 1819: All persons
  • Norway 1801: All persons
  • Norway 1865: All persons
  • Norway 1875: All persons
  • Norway 1900: All persons
  • Norway 1910: All persons
  • Sweden 1880: All persons
  • Sweden 1890: All persons
  • Sweden 1900: All persons
  • Sweden 1910: All persons
  • United States 1850a: Males age 16+
  • United States 1850b: All persons
  • United States 1860: All persons
  • United States 1870: All persons
  • United States 1880a: All persons
  • United States 1880b: All persons
  • United States 1900: All persons
  • United States 1910: All persons


  • Canada: 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911
  • Denmark: 1787, 1801
  • Great Britain: 1851a, 1851c, 1861a, 1861b, 1871b, 1881a, 1881b, 1891a, 1891b, 1901a, 1901b, 1911
  • Iceland: 1703, 1729, 1801, 1901, 1910
  • Mecklenburg: 1819
  • Norway: 1801, 1865, 1875, 1900, 1910
  • Sweden: 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910
  • United States: 1850a, 1850b, 1860, 1870, 1880a, 1880b, 1900, 1910