TOC Image: Statistics

Gathering data through interviews


WIEGO Specialists

Joann Vanek

Françoise Carré
Research Coordinator

The Statistics Programme collaborates with official statisticians to develop statistics needed by organizations of informal workers to make visible the size and significance of the informal economy and the situation of those working in it.

Improving Statistics to Make Workers Visible

When WIEGO began in the 1990s, the informal sector was a relatively new concept in labour statistics. Data were available for very few countries. Further, the concept of the informal sector did not include certain types of wage employment that shared the risks associated with informality but were outside informal enterprises.

WIEGO’s founders recognized the power of statistics. Thus they set the mainstreaming of the measurement of the informal economy in national economic and labour statistics as a primary goal.

Today, WIEGO plays an important role in the development of statistics on all aspects of the informal economy. A recent evaluation of the Statistics Programme (WIEGO Impact Evaluation – Evaluator’s Assessment Report, Mainstreaming the Measurement of the Informal Economy in Labour Force and Economic Statistics) noted: the use of statistics to drive arguments is not uncommon among activists, but to place it as the forefront of their work agenda is rare.

Goals & Activities

Shakuntala Rameshman makes brooms at her roadside stand on a busy street in Ahmedabad.Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images Reportage
The Statistics Programme seeks to develop statistics on the informal economy as an essential component of mainstream or official statistics at national, regional and international levels. This includes:

  • working to improve classifications, concepts and methods for data collection on informal workers and informal enterprises and for estimating the contribution of informal employment to national economies
  • encouraging countries to include informal employment in their data collection activities and encouraging donors to fund these activities
  • assisting in training of statisticians and data users in methods of data collection and tabulation

The Statistics Programme makes data available to policymakers, researchers and advocates in easily accessible formats.This involves:

  • preparing statistical data and analysis on the size, composition and contribution of the informal economy and the characteristics and situation of those who work in it
  • promoting data based research on informal sector, informal employment and related topics.

Unique and Valuable Collaboration

A strength of the Statistics Programme is that we work directly with both the producers of official statistics and the potential users – membership-based organizations of informal workers, NGOs, research institutions and development agencies. These users need data to draw attention to the situation of these workers, for analyses, and to inform their efforts to influence policy.

The Impact Evaluation of our programme, cited above, concluded that the programme chose the correct partners to achieve its goals.

Collaboration is key to the success of this statistical work. WIEGO has built on the efforts of, and worked collaboratively with, national statistics offices – especially those that place a high priority on statistics on informal employment, as well as regional and international organizations, including:

  • the International Labour Organization (ILO), which under the international statistical system is responsible for labour force statistics
  • the United Nations Statistics Division, which is responsible for the international system of national accounts (SNA)
  • the Expert Group on Informal Sector Statistics, called the Delhi Group, which was formed in 1997 by countries interested in improving statistics on the informal sector. It reports regularly to the United Nations Statistical Commission. See the Delhi Group on Informal Sector Statistics and a list of all Delhi Group meeting reports.

The Statistics Programme continues to be a driving force in bringing visibility to informal economy workers through statistics by collaborating with a number of international bodies.This work currently includes:

  • promoting the collection and analysis of data on informal sector and informal employment
  • providing technical advice to countries, international and regional organizations, and ad hoc groups, including to UN Women in the preparation of Progress of the World’s Women 2015 and to the United Nations Statistics Division and UN Women’s ’s project on Measuring Entrepreneurship from a Gender Perspective
  • offering technical support to the Inclusive Cities Project and others in WIEGO in the development of statistics on urban informal employment and on categories of informal workers, specifically home-based workers, waste pickers, street vendors, and domestic workers
  • presenting data in formats that are easily accessible to the widest range of users
  • working toward application of the concept of informal employment in developed countries through provision of technical advice on conceptual work, research on non-standard and informal employment in developed countries and participation in the ECE Expert Group on Measuring the Quality of Employment
  • participating in the ILO working Group for the revision of the International Classification of Status in Employment (ICSE). The revision will be considered by the Conference of Labour Statisticians in 2018.
  • Preparing methods for estimating and statistics on earnings of the self-employed.

The Statistics Programme has also collaborated with organizations of informal workers – for example, with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), StreetNet, HomeNet South Asia, HomeNet Nepal, the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), and national/regional associations of waste pickers – to develop data and provide it to them in readily-accessible formats.

Creating a Statistical Picture

ILO-WIEGO-Women and Men in the Informal Economy, 2nd editionIn 2002, WIEGO compiled and analyzed available recent national data on informal employment for an ILO publication called Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture. That publication was seen as the pre-eminent source of statistics on informal employment.

An update was jointly prepared and published by the ILO and WIEGO in December 2013. Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture, 2nd Edition builds on the 2002 edition but does not contain the regional estimates. Instead it presents more detailed data on informal employment and employment in the informal sector for 42 countries plus six cities in China and two provinces of Indonesia, and on categories of informal

Vanek - Statistics on the Informal EconomyWIEGO has also authored a companion Working Paper with regional estimates. Statistics on the Informal Economy: Definitions, Regional Estimates and Challenges by Joann Vanek, Martha Chen, Franҫoise Carré, James Heintz and Ralf Hussmanns (2014) contains the updated regional estimates. The estimates were prepared by James Heintz using a more robust analytic method and based on data from many more countries than the 2002 publication.

Data visualization

The WIEGO Dashboard statistics feature highlights key indicators of informal employment organized by country, comprised mainly by countries with data in the ILOSTAT database. The dashboard also contains estimates of informal employment and employment in the informal sector for the relevant regions as well as data at the city level for 19 cities. The city-level data were prepared through WIEGO projects. 

Statistics dashboard

Notable Gains

Esperanza Foretu is a recycler and waste picker in Bogota and member of the ARB (Asociación de Recicladores de Bogotá) Waste Picker’s Association.Photo: Juan Arredondo/Getty Images Reportage

Measuring Informality

October 2013 saw the launch of Measuring Informality: A Statistical Manual on the Informal Sector and Informal Employment. Statistics Director Joann Vanek played an integral role in the preparation of this manual, which was prepared in cooperation with the International Expert Group on Informal Sector Statistics (the Delhi Group) and published by the International Labour Organization (ILO). This important contribution to the field can assist countries in planning a labour statistics programme that includes the informal sector and informal employment. It provides practical guidance on the technical issues involved with the development and administration of surveys used to collect relevant information, as well as the compilation, tabulation and dissemination of the resulting data. Access this manual in English, Spanish and French.

A regional training course on Statistics on Informality: Informal economy, work and employment was held 6-10 July 2015 at the Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP) in Chiba Japan. This regional course aimed to promote and improve the collection of data and statistics on informal employment and employment in the informal sector as an integral part of national labour force statistics in Asia and the Pacific. The course was organized by the Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP), a regional institution of the United States Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP), in collaboration with the Statistics Division of ESCAP, International Labour Organization (ILO); Women in Inforrmal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO); and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Government of Japan (MIC). Twenty two statisticians and labour ministry officials participated from 13 Asian countries: Bhutan, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Pakistan, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand. See Regional Course on Statistics on Informality: Informal economy, work and employment.

The Statistics Programme also undertakes research on methods to improve the measurement of the informal economy and the conditions and earnings of informal workers.  The research is published in a series of statistical briefs, including:

Spotlighting Home-Based Workers and other Informal Workers

Home-based workers are among the most invisible of informal workers. WIEGO has long worked to change that. Most recently, at the request of HomeNet Thailand, the Statistics Programme organized a consultation with the Thailand Institute of Statistics and the Informal Labour Protection Division of the Department of Labour and Welfare to improve the measurement of home-based workers and domestic workers in the yearly labour force survey. This follows a project with HomeNet South Asia and HomeNet SouthEast Asia in which WIEGO used available national statistics in several countries to describe the numbers and characteristics of home-based workers. Also, working with national analysts, WIEGO prepared Statistical Briefs on Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan.

WIEGO has focused on other informal workers, for example, domestic workers, street vendors and waste pickers. Working with the Urban Policies Programme, the Statistics Programme prepared data and published papers on:

Linking Informality, Poverty and Gender Inequality

Progress of the World's Women 2005Progress of the World’s Women 2005: Women, Work and Poverty by Martha Chen, Joann Vanek, Francie Lund, and James Heintz withRenana Jhabvala and Christine Bonner – This publication, the 2005 edition of UNIFEM's flagship publication, prepared by WIEGO with support from UNDP and the ILO, presents new analytic frameworks and data on the links between informal employment, poverty and gender inequality.

Mainstreaming Informal Employment and Gender in Poverty ReductionThis publication further develops an earlier analysis, Mainstreaming Informal Employment and Gender in Poverty Reduction by Martha Chen, Joann Vanek, and Marilyn Carr (2004) – Prepared for the Commonwealth Secretariat, this includes a compilation and analysis of the available data on gender segmentation in the informal economy, earnings and the risk of poverty.

More on Statistics on the Informal Economy

New statistical data and information on improved methods related to definitions, data collection and tabulation are found at Statistics on the Informal Economy.

Past Activities