Statistical Picture

Statistics on the size, composition, contribution, and other dimensions of the informal economy are needed to inform economic and social policies. Until recently only limited data have been available on informal employment and the informal economy.

The first-ever global estimates on the size of informal employment, published by the ILO in 2018, show 61% of all workers are informally employed. That’s 2 billion workers worldwide. The estimates reveal a clear relationship between low levels of GDP and high levels of informal employment in countries.

Counting the World’s Informal Workers: A Global Snapshot

GLOBAL

Informal employment as a per cent of total, rural and urban employment 

Countries by income level*

Total Rural Urban
World 61 80 44
Developing 90 90 79
Emerging 67 83 51
Developed 18 22 17
*2018 World Bank definitions based on country levels of gross income per capita.

BY REGION

Informal employment as a per cent of total employment by region (excluding developed countries)

Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding Southern Africa) 92
Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole 89
Southern Asia 88
East and South-eastern Asia (excluding China) 77
Middle East and North Africa 68
Latin America and the Caribbean 54
Eastern Europe and Central Asia 37

 

BY SEX

Globally, men have higher rates of informal employment than women. However, in 56% of countries, rates of informal employment for women are higher. Women’s rates of informal employment are higher than men’s in the lower-income countries. Lower rates of employment and/or informal employment for women in many emerging countries contribute to the higher global average for men.

Informal employment as a per cent of total, women’s and men’s employment

Countries by income level Total Women Men
World 61 58 63
Developing 90 92 87
Emerging 67 64 69
Developed 18 18 19

 

BY STATUS IN EMPLOYMENT

Globally, 56% of all workers are wage employed, while 44% are self-employed. However, among the world’s informal workers, 64% are self-employed.

Composition of informal employment by status in employment (per cent)

Countries by
income level
Wage Employment Self-employment
World 36 64
Developing 21 79
Emerging 37 63
Developed 51 49

 

For more data by status in employment, age, and branch of industry, download the pamphlet Counting the World's Informal Workers: A Global Snapshot (available in English, French and Spanish).

BY POVERTY LEVELS

Additional analysis in Women and Men in the Informal Economy, 3rd edition shows that not all informal workers are from poor households and not all formal workers are from non-poor households. However, there is significant overlap between being informally employed and being poor. Higher percentages of informal workers than formal workers are from poor households, in developing, emerging and developed countries. Also, a higher percentage of workers from poor households, compared to non-poor households, are informally employed in all country income groups. In developing and emerging economies, anywhere from just over 50 per cent to nearly 100 per cent of workers from poor households are informally employed, while less than half of workers from non-poor households are informally employed.