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
Informal employment as a per cent of total, rural and urban employment
Countries by income level*
*2018 World Bank definitions based on country levels of gross income per capita.
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|
|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|
The advocates and policymakers who work with WIEGO need statistics on informal workers to support their demands. However in addition to the problems of identifying workers in informal occupations in national data, additional problems are encountered in producing these data on the level of cities.
Find City-level Statistics on Informal Workers
Download this table (in Excel), which contains the data WIEGO commissioned on informal employment and its workers in 19 cities.
WIEGO now produces more comprehensive data on informal workers in cities in its Statistical Brief Series:
- Informal Workers in Urban South Africa: A Statistical Snapshot (2019) by Mike Rogan
- Informal Workers in Urban Thailand: A Statistical Snapshot (2019) by Wissanee Poonsab, Joann Vanek and Françoise Carré
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|
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
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.