The achievement of high employment has been a priority item on the political agenda of post-war Norway. During the 1970s, the development of the North Sea oil fields combined with an active labour market policy led to significantly lower unemployment in Norway than in other industrial countries. Since the 1980s, however, the globalization of the economy has tied Norway more closely to world economic trends, and unemployment levels now tend to reflect fluctuations at the international level. In 2002, the rate of unemployment was 3.9% of the workforce.
The network of government employment offices established at the county and municipal levels comprises one of the most important instruments of Norwegian labour market policy. The public authorities have also implemented wide-ranging employment measures such as wage support for companies hiring new employees, training initiatives and work placement programmes as well as special measures for individuals with limited vocational choices.
During the period between the world wars, Norway, like the rest of Europe, was hit by mass unemployment. Levels peaked in 1933, when a third of the unionized workforce was jobless. During the post-WWII reconstruction, there was broad political agreement that full employment would be one of the most important aims of the new Norwegian economic policy. This consensus has been maintained by the various governments ever since.
The North Sea oil industry gave rise to many new jobs in Norway, but unemployment nevertheless began to rise in the beginning of the 1980s. Problems in an overheated Norwegian and world economy led to a new and more serious increase in unemployment starting in 1987-88.
In recent years, the size of the workforce has stabilized at 2.0-2.1 million employees. The number of women employees escalated in the 1980s and has since remained high. There are a considerable number of part-time employees on the Norwegian workforce. Just under half of all women and about 10% of all men work fewer than 36 hours a week.