I found some data on the number of self-employed people per one thousand inhabitants in Europe here. However, in the year 2020, for instance, some statistical units have over one thousand self-employed people per one thousand inhabitants. How is this possible? Am I mistaken?

I am attempting to find and interpret a correlation between several variables concerning labour, such as self-employment, and the satisfaction level in European countries.

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps this counts each business separately, so that individuals that have 2 businesses are counted twice? $\endgroup$
    – mkt
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your response. I checked the filters and the metadata and it does not seem like it. I really do not know what to make out of it! $\endgroup$
    – Anc45
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 16:44

3 Answers 3


This is not a rate per one thousand people, this is the absolute number of people, with one unit equating 1,000 people. So if you see something like 3,258.1, it simply means 3,258,100 people.

This is not very explicit and not well-documented (to say the least), but you can see it in the "Unit of measure: Thousand persons" part of the table. The meaning of this mention itself is not well-documented on the page, but is explained on another page of Eurostat:

Unit of measure

Most results measure number of persons (thousands). Some indicators are reported as rates (employment, unemployment rates). Some variables are reported in other units (ages in years, working time in hours, etc.).

Here is a screenshot of where to find this mention:

A partial screenshot of the Eurostat page, indicating where to find the mention "unit of measure: Thousand persons"

Note that Eurostat has a multilingual user support team that you can contact (even by phone, a rarity) in case you have doubts about interpreting their data.

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    $\begingroup$ This turns out to be the correct answer and deserves the green check over mine. I will keep my answer posted as an interesting idea. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Dave I upvoted your answer for this reason. I find that your answer and the other one by Sextus Empiricus are more interesting than mine generally speaking, and may probably interest a wider audience than the quite specific problem described in the body text of the question. $\endgroup$
    – J-J-J
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 10:02
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    $\begingroup$ Something like this is indicated by the values: the EU27 is by far the largest. Italy, France, Germany Spain and Poland are big. Malta and Cyprus are many times smaller. So the values are related to the size of the country. $\endgroup$
    – Henry
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Henry +1. However, it requires prior knowledge of the population of each country to notice that in the first place (even if the numbers in the "EU27" line strongly hints in this direction, as it's the sum of each individual country). If we're incorrectly confident in assuming we're looking at rates (e.g. because we've been tricked by the ambiguous mention "1000" in the title), if we don't have some familiarity with the population size of these countries, and if our attention is focused on looking for explanations not coming from an error of our part, then we can miss the correct explanation. $\endgroup$
    – J-J-J
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 7:10


I find it plausible that the calculation, while reported as number of self-employed people per $1000$ people (which cannot exceed $1000$), is actually the number of self-employment jobs per $1000$ people. With $2020$ being a major COVID year with a lot of work-from-home, I find it plausible that people took on self-employment side hustles, perhaps in such a large quantity that there were more such side hustles than people.

This could lead to a more than $1000$ per $1000$ people yet not break mathematics.

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    $\begingroup$ This could have been a reasonable explanation, but the explanation is more trivial: this is an absolute number, not a rate. You can check it in the table: the numbers in the line "European Union" at the top of the table ($> 25,000$ every year since 2016) are always the sum of each individual EU country (excluding of course non-EU countries like Norway, Iceland, etc.). As I mention in my answer, the table is not well-documented and very not user friendly, so they are really just calling for misinterpretation. They should simply redesign it. $\endgroup$
    – J-J-J
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 7:39
  • $\begingroup$ The average rate of self-employed people in the European Union is about 3 per 100000, or 0.03 per 1000. So, while a number higher than 1000 per 1000 wouldn't break mathematics, it would certainly break the economy, work-from-home or not. $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 13:07

The specific question from the body text is answered by J-J-J but the title question can have more explanations

Can statistical units measured per thousand inhabitants be bigger than 1000?

  • The number can be bigger if the count is not inhabitants per inhabitants. For example the number of shoes per inhabitant is most likely exceeding beyond 2.

  • But also for a count like people per inhabitants the ratio can exceed 1. For example in a particular city with a large industry, commercial properties and/or tourism the number of workers per inhabitants can exceed 1 if many of the workers live outside the city.

  • In addition. Figures can exceed 100% when they are measured with some source of error.

    In technical applications this can happen for instance when yield is computed and some experiment weighs before and after some treatment. If the process is close to 100% yield then it might sometimes exceed 100% due to measurement errors with weighting or because the process has some residue from a previous experiment (when I put 100 gram beans in my coffee mill then sometimes it produces more than 100 gram coffee grounds).

    With demographics this might occur when the ratio is based on two independent estimates/measurements.

  • Miscalculation or falsified numbers can also be a reason for unphysical values.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ (+1). It may be worth mentioning that in some (hopefully rare) situations, it can be indicative of data falsification. $\endgroup$
    – J-J-J
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ @J-J-J or miscalculation. $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2023 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ (+1) "the number of workers per inhabitants can exceed 1 if many of the workers live outside the city" - a good example is the City of London (the "square mile" central business district of Greater London, population approx 9k, but where about 500k people work) for which many statistics normally calculated per inhabitant, e.g. crime figures, become totally meaningless. $\endgroup$
    – Silverfish
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 21:42

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