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Cross-National Data on Government Employment & Wages

Systematic and comparable information on public sector employment and pay is rare and generally controversial. We strongly recommend that you read this Web page to understand the relevant categories, definitions, and sources of public sector pay and employment data that are available through this website.

Click HERE to access the data set.

As Heller and Tait (1983:35) remarked in 1983, "It is surprising and depressing how little information is readily available on public sector employment and pay."  The situation  has improved little since then.  This is not to say that data on government employment and pay does not exist – it does –but in this field especially, establishing the basis for a comparison is a complicated and time consuming endeavor.

Statistics need to be credible. Yet government employment statistics of any reliability simply don’t exist in many countries. Where reliable data do exist, important definitional questions arise. Public employees can be disaggregated according to their occupation, their employment status, and/or according to who pays their salary. These criteria produce a complex array of cross-cutting public employment categories and many gray definitional areas. (Figure 1 below provides a visual representation.) Countries differ in what they consider to be government employment, and therefore the same terminology is often used to refer to different categories. For example, some countries include teachers and/or health workers in the civil service, while others do not. Some include paramilitary personnel among civilian employees because they have a role in maintaining public order, while other countries consider them military personnel. Some countries consider local government employees paid from the central budget as local government staff, whereas others designate these as central government staff.  See Civil Service Law and Employment Regimes for a discussion of this point.

Click HERE to see Figure 1: The Main Components of Government Employment.      

International comparisons are still more complicated for government wages than they are for employment. Indeed, the existence of various in-kind benefits in different countries makes it impossible to ensure that differences in monetary compensation adequately reflect differences in total compensation. Even when comparisons are limited to monetary compensation there are serious difficulties. Whether wage rates are derived from independent surveys or from official information on pay scales, it is impossible to treat non-wage allowances and other monetary benefits uniformly because certain sources will include them in the wage package while others capture only the basic salary. Budgetary figures on the overall wage bill paid for through the central budget are generally reliable because monetary allowances are usually captured in the central government budget and properly classified under the wages and salaries item of the budget.

Despite all of these difficulties, international comparisons, used with caution, provide interesting information regarding employment levels and wage adequacy. The data presented in this site can provide pointers for further analysis. However, they cannot replace in-depth country specific study, and should not be used in isolation as the basis for policy recommendations.

Employment data                                                              

The public employment data compiled by Amit Mukhejee and Giulio de Tommaso cover both full-time and part-time employees, for the most recent year available. Whenever possible, the differences in employment status are highlighted in the country notes that accompany the data tables. The employment categories used in this data set appear in boldface type in Figure 1 above. They are defined as follows:

Total Public Employment: includes both state-owned enterprise (SOE) employees and General Government.

State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) employees: employees of enterprises that are majority owned by government.

General Government: refers to employment in "all government departments offices, organizations and other bodies which are agencies or instruments of the central or local authorities whether accounted for or financed in, ordinary or extraordinary budgets or extra-budgetary funds. They are not solely engaged in administration but also in defense and public order, in the promotion of economic growth and in the provision of education, health, cultural and social services." (International Standard of Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC), Series M No. 4, Rev 3- 1990)

Within General Government we have distinguished six mutually exclusive categories:

  • Armed Forces: covers all enlisted personnel (including conscripts) and professional military. Where possible, administrative employees of the Ministry of Defense have been excluded and are accounted for as Civilian Central Government employees.

  • Civilian Central Government (excluding education, health, and police): includes central executive and legislative administration in departments directly dependent on the Head of State or the Parliament, together with all other ministries and administrative departments, including autonomous agencies. Education, health, and police employees paid by central government are accounted for separately.

    Reference is occasionally made to Consolidated Central Government. This category, consistent with data originating from the IMF, corresponds to Civilian Central Government including Education, Health, and Police employees. Thus, it is equivalent to "Total Civilian Central Government" in Figure 1.

  • Subnational Government (excluding education, health, and police): encompasses all government administration employees who are not directly funded by the central government. It includes municipalities, as well as regional, provincial, or state (in federal systems) employment. The distinction between Central and Subnational Government employment is budgetary, not geographic. If central government agencies are geographically dispersed, but without changing their ultimate sources of finance, then the staff in those agencies are included in the Central Government tally.

  • Health employees: covers medical and paramedical staff (doctors, nurses, and midwives) and laboratory technicians employed in government hospitals and other government health institutions at all levels of government. Where possible, administrative employees working in the health sector have been excluded and are accounted for as Civilian Central Government or Subnational Government employees, as appropriate.

  • Education employees: covers primary, secondary public education employment. Where possible, administrative employees of the Ministry of Education or local school systems have been excluded.

  • Police: includes all personnel - whether military, paramilitary or civilian - that exercise police functions. This includes corps like Gendarmerie and Carabinieri. However, as a matter of convention, it does not include border guards. Police employment data have been included, when readily available, but have not been gathered systematically. If a number for police is not available, these public employees are captured in the Civilian Central Government or Subnational Government categories.

It should be noted that the different functions individual countries impart to their government, and the difficulties that result in classifying employees, complicate the calculation of these data.

Wage Data                                                                             

The following definitions are used for the Mukherjee/de Tommaso data set posted on this website. Please note, however, that statistics on pubic finance are often incomplete, untimely, and non-comparable.

Central Government Wage Bill: The sum of wages and salaries paid to civilian central government and the armed forces. Wages and salaries consist of all payments in cash, but not in kind, to employees in return for services rendered, before deduction of withholding taxes and employee pension contributions. Monetary allowances (e.g., for housing, transportation) are included in the wage bill. Pensions are not. For the sake of comparisons, this number has been expressed as:

  1. a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GDP measure is the sum of value added by households, government, and the enterprises operating in the economy.
  2. as a percentage of total government expenditure. Total central government expenditure includes all nonrepayable current and capital expenditures, and excludes government lending or repayments to the government.

Average Government Wage: represents the ratio of the Central Government Wage Bill (defined above) to the total number of central government employees. Non-monetary benefits (e.g., free meals, transportation) and expected future benefits (e.g., pensions) are not included in this wage measure. It should be noted, however, that in some countries these benefits make up a significant share of a public employee's total rewards.

Where a specific source is listed, the authors have used numbers already available. Where a source is not listed, the government wage figure is the result of estimations on the part of the authors, and therefore demands an extra degree of caution.

Average Government Wage to per capita GDP: is calculated by dividing the Average Government Wage by the GDP per capita estimate. This is meant to convey information about the condition of an average central government employee in relation to living standards in that country. However, this measure fails to capture the real conditions of central government employees to the extent that in-kind and intangible benefits (e.g., housing, trips abroad) are a important part of the total rewards these employees receive.

Compression Ratio: the ratio of the highest salary to the lowest on the central government's main salary scale. This definition differs from the one recently adopted by the OECD, which measures wage compression in OECD countries as the mean of ninth decile salaries divided by the mean of first decile salaries. The OECD's approach ensures that a handful of salaries will not dramatically skew the compression ratio. The method used in this database provides a suggestive indication of wage policy difficulties but can not be used to develop policy proposals as it can be strongly influenced by a few outliers. Although it is not included in this database, a country-specific and class-specific compression ratio can be identified and tracked over time by taking the average remuneration of personnel in the top salary grade to average remuneration of personnel in the bottom salary grade of the relevant class of civil servants. This can serve to track changes over time in a given country but it has no cross-country comparability. All compression ratio approaches can be misleading if there are significant monetary allowances not captured in the calculations, or if the perceived value of non-monetary rewards represents a significant proportion of total rewards (see total rewards).

Average Government to Manufacturing Wage: the ratio of Average Government Wage (defined above) to the manufacturing wage (defined by the ILO). This measure while advantageous because readily available, presents a bias as manufacturing workers tend to be blue collar workers while central government employee tend to be white collar workers. The comparison tends to show central government wages in a better light than they should. T he Manufacturing sector is composed of workers employed in the areas of manufacture of food products and beverages, tobacco products, textiles, wearing apparel; dressing and dyeing of fur, tanning and dressing of leather; manufacture of luggage, handbags, saddlery, harness and footwear; manufacture of wood and of products of wood and cork, except furniture; manufacture of articles of straw and plaiting materials; paper and paper products; Publishing, printing and reproduction of recorded media; manufacture of coke, refined petroleum products and nuclear fuel; 24 Manufacture of chemicals and chemical products; rubber and plastic products; Manufacture of other non-metallic mineral products; Manufacture of basic metals; Manufacture of fabricated metal products, except machinery and equipment; Manufacture of machinery and equipment NEC (not elsewhere classified); manufacture of office, accounting and computing machinery, electrical machinery and apparatus NEC; manufacture of radio, television and communication equipment and apparatus; Manufacture of medical, precision and optical instruments, watches and clocks; motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers; other transport equipment; furniture; manufacturing NEC; Recycling.

Average Government to Financial Sector Wage: the ratio of Average Government Wage (defined above) to the financial sector wage (defined by the ILO). This measure while advantageous because readily available for a large number of countries presents a bias, as financial sector employees tend to be on the high end of white collar employment. Accordingly the ratio of these two indicators has tended to show average central government wage in a worse light than it should. Financial sector includes Financial intermediation, Insurance and pension funding, except compulsory social security; and Activities auxiliary to financial intermediation.

Average Government to Private Sector Wage: The Average Private Sector wage corresponds to the weighted average wages for all private sector activities in the economy. It is a very difficult estimate to get for a large sample of countries, and is generally taken from World Bank and/or other institutions' analyses of the private sector.

Recommended readings                                                    

Heller, Peter S., and Alan A. Tait. 1984. Government Employment and Pay: Some International Comparisons. Occasional Paper No. 24. International Monetary Fund, Washington, D.C.

Kraay, Aart, and Caroline van Rijckeghem. 1995. "Employment and Wages in the Public Sector: A Cross-Country Study." IMF Working Paper; WP/95/70. Fiscal Affairs Department, International Monetary Fund, Washington, D.C.

Lindauer, David L. 1988. "Government Pay and Employment Policies and Government Performance in Developing Economies." Background paper for World Development Report 1988, WPS 42, World Bank, Washington, D.C.

Lindauer, David L., Oey A. Meesook, and Parita Suebsaeng. 1988. "Government Wage Policy in Africa: Some Findings and Policy Issues." World Bank Research Observer 3 (January): 1-25.

OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). 1999. "Structure of the Civil Service Employment in Seven OECD Countries." OECD, Paris.

OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). 1993. Pay Flexibility in the Public Sector. Paris: OECD/PUMA.

OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). 1994 and 1997. "Trends in Public Sector Pay: A Study of Nine OECD Countries 1985-1990." Occasional Papers on Public Management No. 1. Paris: OECD/PUMA.

OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). 1994. "Senior Civil Service Pay: A Study of Eleven OECD Countries 1980-1991." Occasional Papers on Public Management No. 4. Paris: OECD/PUMA.

OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). 1998. "Wage Determination in the Public Sector: A France/Italy Comparison."

OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). 1998. "Performance Pay Schemes for Public Sector Managers: An Evaluation of the Impacts."

OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Public Sector Pay and Employment database (PSPE).

Schiavo-Campo, Salvatore, Giulio de Tommaso, Amitabha Mukherjee. 1997. Government Employment and Pay: a Global and Regional Perspective. Policy Research Working Paper No. 1771. The World Bank, May.

Schiavo-Campo, Salvatore, Giulio de Tommaso, Amitabha Mukherjee. 1997. An International Statistical Survey of Government Employment and Wages. Policy Research Working Paper No. 1806. The World Bank, August.

Suggested websites                                                          



This page was developed by Giulio de Tommaso of the World Bank Group. It was revised by Nick Manning and Jeff Rinne on 12 January 2001. Figure 1 was developed in the Public Sector Group of the World Bank.

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