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ESRC Data Archive Bulletin:
Northern Ireland Labour Force Survey

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Text: Anthony Murphy ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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Northern Ireland Labour Force Survey

Anthony Murphy
Northern Ireland Economic Research Centre


The NI Labour Force Survey (LFS) is practically identical to the GB LFS (Archive study number 33132). The main purpose of the survey is to collect comparable data on the behaviour and characteristics of the workforce at a point in time. The NI LFS collects data from about 4,000 (responding) private households annually each spring. Information on the economic activity and status of all persons aged 16 and over resident in each of these households, as well as information on household size and composition, are recorded.

Responsibility for the NI LFS

The Department of Economic Development (DED) in Belfast is responsible for the conduct of the LFS in Northern Ireland. Fieldwork is carried out by interviewers employed by the Statistics and Social Division of the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP). Telephone interviewing is not carried out in Northern Ireland. OPCS processes and tabulates the results of the NI LFS and DED is responsible for publication of these results.

Sample Design

The design of the NI LFS differs from that of the GB LFS. The sample of address for the NI LFS is obtained from the Rating Valuation Lists, excluding commercial units and known institutions. Three sample strata are used:

  • Belfast District Council area;
  • East of the Province (most of Antrim, Down and part of Armagh);
  • West of the Province (the remainder of Northern Ireland).

Prior to 1987 the primary sampling units were wards selected from each of the three strata. Addresses were randomly selected within the chosen wards. Since 1987, the use of wards as primary sampling units has been dropped. Instead addresses are randomly selected within each of the three strata. This change improved the sample design.

Other Differences in Sample Design

Unlike Great Britain there is no quarterly LFS in Northern Ireland and at present there are no plans to introduce one. Since March 1992, the GB quarterly LFS has been enhanced. The quarterly sample of households is now equal in size to the what was called the "spring boost" sample. Unlike the LFS or enhanced LFS in GB, no sample rotation is built into the NI LFS.

Sample Size and Response Rates

The sample of addresses from the Rating Valuation Lists is approximately one per cent of domestic properties. However only private household addresses are eligible for inclusion in the sample and some households refuse to respond. Table 1 sets out some details of the NI LFS sample.

Table 1
The Northern Ireland LFS Sample

1988 1989 1990 1991
No. of Household Returns 5500 5220 5210 5210
Eligible Sample 5100 4790 4790 4820
Responding Households (Both full and partial)



Response Rate 86% 85% 84% 84%
No. of Adults (Aged 16 or Older) 8930 8680 8420 8570

Content of the NI LFS

The content of the NI LFS is basically the same as that of GB LFS. Some minor differences are as follows:

  • No questions on ethnic background are asked in NI;
  • The government training and employment schemes are different in NI;
  • There is a single question on shiftwork in the NI LFS.

A religion trailer questionnaire was included in the NI LFS for 1984 to 1986 and since 1990, a religion trailer is permanently included in the NI LFS. The Policy Planning and Research Unit of the DFP in Belfast recently published a report on religion and economic activity based on the 1990 NI LFS.

Publication of Results from the NI LFS

The DED in Belfast produce short reports on each year's LFS. These appear as Statistic Notices. Some limited results for Northern Ireland are included in the annual LFS article in Employment Gazette and in the annual LFS publication produced by OPCS. Employment Gazette features regular articles based on the LFS but the coverage of Northern Ireland tends to be very limited. Regional Trends contains many tables based on LFS data for all regions of the UK including Northern Ireland.

Access to NI LFS Data

The NI LFS data are included in the UK LFS data held by the ESRC Data Archive. At present the Data Archive holds eleven years LFS data (1975,1977,1979,1981 and 1983 to 1990). Local authority district codes are not included in UK LFS data. The Data Archive does not hold any religion trailer data.


Chamberlain, E. et al. (1991) "Enhancement of the Labour Force Survey in Great Britain", Statistical News, 95, Winter 1991.
Penrice, G. (1989) Review of Northern Ireland Economic Statistics, mimeo, Department of Finance and Personnel, Belfast.

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