Statistical Picture

To inform economic and social policies, statistics on the size, composition, contribution, and other dimensions of the informal economy are needed. As a relatively new area of statistical development, until recently only limited data have been available on informal employment and the informal economy.

What follows is a summary of available data on the size and composition of the informal economy in developing countries and non-standard work in developed countries.

The regional estimates are in WIEGO Working Paper No. 2, Statistics on the informal Economy: Definitions, Regional Estimates and ChallengesDetailed data for countries is available in ILO/WIEGO, Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture (2nd edition). The latter publication also contains more detailed data on occupations for urban informal workers and estimates of the contribution of the informal sector to the economy for a number of countries.

Developing Countries

Regional Estimates

Informal employment is more than half of non-agricultural employment in most developing regions. However the regional estimates hide great diversity within a region.

Informal Employment as Per Cent of Total Non-Agricultural Employment 2004-2010

South Asia: 82%
range: 62% in Sri Lanka to 84% in India

Sub-Saharan Africa: 66%
range: 33% in South Africa to 52% in Zimbabwe
to 82% in Mali

East and Southeast Asia: 65%
range: 42% in Thailand to 73% in Indonesia

Latin America: 51%
range: 40% in Uruguay to 75% in Bolivia

Middle East and North Africa: 45%
range: 31% in Turkey to 57% in West Bank & Gaza

Eastern Europe & Central Asia: 10%
range: 6% in Serbia to 16% in Moldova

Women and Men in Informal Employment
In three out of six regions (South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean) plus urban China, informal employment is a greater source of non-agricultural employment for women than for men. In East and Southeast Asia (excluding China) the percentage is roughly the same. Only in the Middle East and North Africa is informal employment a greater source of employment for men than for women. However because there are more men in employment than women, men generally comprise a greater share of informal non-agricultural employment than women.

Informal Employment as Per Cent of Non-Agricultural Employment by Sex 2004-2010

South Asia
83% women, 82% men

Sub-Saharan Africa
74% women, 61% men

Latin America and the Caribbean
54% women, 48% men

Urban China
36% women, 30% men

East and Southeast Asia (excluding China)
64% women, 65% men

Middle East and North Africa
35% women, 47% men

Composition

Informal employment is a large and heterogeneous category. Many different types of employment belong under the broad umbrella “informal”. This includes employment in informal enterprises as well as outside informal enterprises—in households or in formal enterprises. It also includes the self-employed and the wage employed and within these broad categories, the  sub-categories according to status in employment. It also includes a range of different occupations: for example, domestic workers, home-based workers, street vendors and waste pickers. These are all age-old occupations in which large numbers of workers around the world are still employed--most informally employed.

Informal Employment Inside and Outside the Informal Sector

Informal employment inside the informal sector is comprised of all employment in informal enterprises, including employers, employees, own-account workers, contributing family workers, and members of cooperatives.

Informal employment outside the informal sector includes a) employees in formal enterprises (incl. public enterprises, the public sector, private firms, and non-profit institutions) not covered by social protection; b) employees in households (e.g. domestic workers) without social protection; and c) contributing family workers in formal enterprises.

In all regions, with the exception of Eastern Europe and Central Asia and in urban China, informal employment in the informal sector is a larger component of non-agricultural employment than informal employment outside the informal sector. It ranges from a high of 69 per cent of non-agricultural employment in South Asia to 7 per cent for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Informal Employment Inside and Outside the informal Sector as Per Cent of Non-Agricultural Employment 2004-10

South Asia
69% informal sector, 15% outside informal sector

 East and Southeast Asia
57% informal sector, 14% outside informal sector

Sub-Saharan Africa
53% informal sector, 14% outside informal sector

Latin American and the Caribbean
34% informal sector, 16% outside informal sector

Urban China
22% informal sector, 13% outside informal sector

Eastern Europe and Central Asia
7% informal sector, 16% outside informal sector

Women and Men in Informal Employment Inside and Outside the Informal Sector

  • Informal employment inside the informal sector often accounts for a larger share of men’s non-agricultural employment than women’s, with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa where 59 per cent of employed women are in the informal sector in contrast to 49 per cent of men and in urban China where 23 per cent of women are in the informal sector in contrast to 21 per cent of men.
  • Informal employment outside the informal sector is generally larger for women than for men, again with the notable exception of sub-Saharan Africa. Women tend to be disproportionately employed as paid domestic workers and contributing family workers.

Wage and Self-Employment

In three of the five regions with data plus urban China, non-agricultural informal employment is almost evenly split between wage and self-employment. However, wage employment dominates non-agricultural informal employment in Eastern Europe and Central Asia while self-employment is the majority in sub-Saharan Africa.

Informal Wage Employment and Informal Self-Employment as Per Cent of Non-Agricultural Informal Employment 2004-2010

Latin America and the Caribbean
48% wage employment, 52% self-employment

South Asia
47% wage employment, 53% self-employment

East and Southeast Asia (excluding China)
49%, wage employment, 51% self-employment

Urban China
47% wage employment, 51% self-employment

Eastern Europe and Central Asia
59% wage employment, 41% self-employment

Sub-Saharan Africa
33% wage employment, 67% self-employment

Women and Men in Wage and Self-Employment
The majority of women in non-agricultural informal employment are self-employed in all regions with data except in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and in urban China. In three of the five regions with data women have substantially higher rates of self–employment than men. In Latin America, roughly equal shares of women and men working in informal employment are in wage and self-employment.

Informal Self-Employment as Per Cent of Non-Agricultural Informal Employment by Sex 2004-2010

Sub-Saharan Africa
76% women, 58% men

East and Southeast Asia (excluding China)
61% women, 44% men

South Asia
58% women, 51% men

Latin America and the Caribbean
51% women, 52%, men

Urban China
48% women, 53% men

Eastern Europe and Central Asia
28% women, 48% men

Self-Employment
Self-employment is comprised of employers, employees, own account workers, and contributing family workers.

  • Across the regions own account workers are the largest category comprising from 53 per cent of informal employment in Sub-Saharan Africa to 33 per cent in East and Southeast Asia (excluding China).
  • The second largest category is contributing family workers who comprise from 5 per cent of informal employment in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to 12 per cent in South Asia.
  • Few workers are employers, only 2 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and South Asia to 9 per cent in East and Southeast Asia (excluding China), but as high as 16 per cent in urban China.

Woman and Men in Self-Employment
Own account self-employment is a significant source of employment for women and men everywhere. In Sub-Saharan Africa and East and Southeast Asia (excluding China) the percentages of women engaged in own account employment are higher than those for men: especially in Sub-Saharan Africa 60 per cent of women engaged in informal employment are own account workers.  

Informal Own Account Workers as Per Cent of Informal Employment by Sex 2004-2010

Sub-Saharan Africa
60% women, 47% men

Latin America and the Caribbean
41% women, 43% men

East and Southeast Asia (excluding China)
38% women, 31% men

South Asia
32% women, 41% men

Urban China
27% women 32% men

Eastern Europe and Central Asia
20% women, 41% men

In many regions of the world, contributing family work continues to be significant, especially for women.

Contributing Family Workers as Per Cent of Informal Employment by Sex 2004-2010

South Asia
26% women, men 9%

Sub-Saharan Africa
15% women, 8% men

East and Southeast Asia (excluding China)
15% women, 5% men

Latin America and the Caribbean
9% women, 4% men

Urban China
8% women, 2% men

Different Occupational Groups

Another source of difference among workers in informal employment is their type of work or occupation. WIEGO has focused on four occupational groups: domestic workers, home-based workers, street vendors and waste pickers. Only one of the four groups of workers—domestic workers—is routinely identified in official national statistics and this group is often under-enumerated and misclassified. WIEGO is working with national statisticians to improve these data.1 In India, for example, improved estimates show that together domestic workers, home-based workers and street vendors comprise a sizeable proportion (one third) of urban employment. Efforts are only beginning to be made to measure those in the occupation waste pickers.2 At present the estimates for the other occupations cannot be combined in a harmonized table, but the following statistics highlight the significance of three of these groups in the labour force of cities:

Domestic workers, home-based workers and street vendors as per cent of urban informal employment Different years3

  • domestic workers - 23% in South Africa, 9% in Brazil, and16% in Buenos Aires
  • home-based workers - 11-25% in eight African cities, 21% in Ghana, 23% in India, and 5% in Buenos Aires
  • street vendors - 12-24% in eight African cities and 14% in both Ghana and India

Developed Countries

A large share of the labour force in developed countries works under arrangements which offer limited benefits and social protection and would be identified as informal employment in developing countries. Such arrangements are generally referred to as non-standard employment because they do not afford workers the protection of regular, full time, year-round employment. 

Non-standard arrangements include own account self-employed workers, temporary (or fixed-term) employment, including temporary help agency, contract company and on-call workers, and some part-time workers. The significance of non-standard employment arrangements is shown in 2008 data for OECD countries:

Own Account Self Employment

  • Own account self-employment is as high as 20 per cent of total employment in Greece and Turkey; for 11 of the 28 countries with data it is from 10 to 19 per cent of total employment and for the remaining 15 countries, 4 to 9 per cent of total employment.
  • Compared to men, women in developed countries have lower rates of self-employment, but within self-employment, they are more likely to be own account workers and less likely to be employers.

Temporary Employment

  • Temporary or fixed-term employment ranges from a high of 29 per cent of wage and salary employment in Spain to a low of about 4 per cent in Slovakia and the United States; of the 28 countries with data, temporary employment is over 20 per cent of wage and salary work in 4 countries, from 10 to 18 per cent in 11 countries and from 4 to 9 per cent in 13 countries.
  • Between 1990 and 2008, women’s rates of temporary employment increased in 16 (out of 28) countries with data, while the rates declined or were stable in the other 12.

Part-Time Work

  • Part-time employment is over 20 per cent of total employment in 8 of the 29 countries, with data reaching a high of 36 per cent in the Netherlands; between 11 and 19 per cent in 13 countries and under 10 per cent in 8 countries.
  • Part-time workers are concentrated in service-producing industries, notably the wholesale and retail trade sectors.
  • Median hourly earnings for part-time workers are lower than for full-time workers in most sectors and the overall earnings of part-time workers are quite a bit lower than for full-time workers even within the same sectors.

Women and Men in Part-Time Work

  • Part time work affects women’s employment to a greater degree than men’s; the incidence of part-time in women’s employment is a high of 60 per cent in the Netherlands and 46 per cent in Switzerland.
  • In most countries, part-time work was significantly higher in women’s employment than in total employment. By 1998, women represented 82 per cent of all part-time workers in EU countries.
  • Part-time workers concentrate in service-producing industries, notably the wholesale and retail trade sectors.
  • Median hourly earnings for part-time workers are lower than for full-time workers in most sectors and the overall earnings of part-time workers are quite a bit lower than for full-time workers even within the same sectors.

Economic Contribution of the Informal Economy

The contribution of economic activities in the informal sector to total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross Value Added (GVA) provides a key indicator for measuring not only the performance of the informal economy but also the economy as a whole. Estimates of the contribution of the informal sector to the GVA have been made for about 30 countries. The contribution is the highest in the countries of West Africa. For example, in Benin, Niger and Togo the informal sector, excluding agriculture, accounts for more than 50 per cent of non-agricultural GVA. In India, the contribution of the informal sector to the economy, excluding agriculture, is also very high at 46 per cent of non-agricultural GVA in 2008.

Recently, Mexico estimated the contribution of total informal employmentboth inside and outside the informal sector—to the national economy. In July 2014, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) made available the first estimates of the Informal economy in the Mexico GDP for the years 2003 -2012. During the period,  the share of the GDP contributed by the informal economy dropped slightly from around 27 per cent to a still significant 25 per cent. Read more.


1 See J. Vanek, M. Chen and G Raveendran (2012), A Guide to Obtaining Data on Types of Informal Workers in Official Statistics, WIEGO Statistical Brief No. 8.

2 See for example Sonia Dias (2011), Statistics on Waste Pickers in Brazil, WIEGO Statistical Brief No. 2.

3 In presenting data on these urban occupational groups, urban agricultural employment and urban non-agricultural employment are not distinguished. Agriculture is at best only a small share of employment in most cities.