Challenges of Gathering Statistics on Street Vendors

Street vendors Myanmar_photo: Marty Chen

Finding reliable data on the size of the street vending population in any given city can be challenging. Official statistics on street vendors are available only in a few countries.  

Why Street Vendors May be Absent from Official Statistics

  • There is no “place of work” question in population censuses and labour force surveys.
  • The “place of work” question lacks appropriate response categories to allow data analysts to identify street traders.
  • Where there is a “place of work” question with appropriate response categories, the results are not tabulated or disseminated.
  • The occupational categories for street traders in the international standard classification of occupations (ISCO-88) are not presented in official statistics (ILO 2002: 51).

Why Street Vendors May be Under-Counted

Even where official statistics do capture street vendors, they are likely to undercount the total number of people working as traders in any given city.

  • Street vendors may report their “place of work” to be home rather than the street, or may not report any place of work at all
  • Many workers use street vending as a secondary, seasonal, temporary, or part-time occupation, so do not report it as an occupation
  • Some street vendors feel uncomfortable reporting their true occupation in government surveys because of the risks they face working in public space. For example, a street vendor may report working as a “micro-entrepreneur” when responding to an official government survey. Reasons behind this include the fear of sanctions if reporting street vending as an occupation, such as fees, confiscation of merchandise, or even jail time. Also, there is a social bias in some countries against informal occupations.

Other Challenges

Even where official statistics provide the most reliable national count of street traders, they cannot always be disaggregated in ways that are useful to urban planners and street vending organizations. Often one can distinguish between urban areas and rural areas, or metro areas and non-metro areas, but not among individual cities (outside the capital) or within areas of individual cities. In some countries, it is possible to disaggregate national labour force surveys to the level of individual cities, but only for the largest city or cities.

In many cities, the only data on street vendors available come from unofficial, often ad-hoc, estimates. A 2012 publication of StreetNet International provides disaggregated analysis of known street vendors in the eThekwini Municipality (Durban, South Africa) by type of area and within areas, with sufficient observations by demographic and vendor characteristics. Read Durban Street Traders.

Further Reading

A Guide to Obtaining Data on Types of Informal Workers in Official Statistics (PDF) by Joann Vanek, Martha Chen, and Govindan Raveendran, 2012. WIEGO Statistical Brief No. 8. 

How to Plan a Street Trader Census (PDF) by Sally Roever, 2011. WIEGO Technical Brief (Urban Policies) No. 2.

Informal Economy Topic
Occupational group