The Statistics Programme collaborates with official statisticians to develop statistics that make visible the size and significance of the informal economy and the situation of those working in it. These statistics are particularly useful to organizations of informal workers in their engagements with policymakers.
Improving Statistics to Make Workers Visible
When WIEGO began in 1997, 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. 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. An evaluation of the Statistics Programme 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. See WIEGO Impact Evaluation – Evaluator’s Assessment Report, Mainstreaming the Measurement of the Informal Economy in Labour Force and Economic Statistics
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
In 2018, WIEGO played a role in the establishment of new categories to the International Classification of Status in Employment (ICSE) that, ultimately, could lead to better national policies benefitting informal workers.
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) and for developing and coordinating gender statistics in the United Nations statistical system
- 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 WIEGO Focal Cities 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 wide 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
- organizing and participating in training activities to improve statistics on the informal economy
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
WIEGO has worked closely with the International Labour Organization (ILO) in the development of statistics on the informal economy.
In 2018, this collaboration led to the ILO publication of the first-ever global estimates on the size of informal employment. Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture 3rd edition shows 61% of all workers are informally employed. The publication provides comparable estimates of the informal economy and its components for over 100 countries, including both developing and developed countries and both agricultural and non-agricultural labour.
Joann Vanek, then-Director of WIEGO’s Statistics Programme, advised on the creation of this ILO report. She also led the development and publication of a shorter statistical brief highlighting the main findings.
See ILO-WIEGO Statistical Reports for more about this collaboration.
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.
A regional training course, Informality: Definitions, Measurement, SDGs and other Policy Indicators, was held in Chiba, Japan, October 2017. The aim were: 1) provide technical information and illustrations of good practices on collecting and tabulating data on informal employment and employment in the informal sector and categories of informal workers as well as related data needed for the preparation of national accounts and SDG indicators; and 2) promote the collection of data and improvements of statistics on informal employment and employment in the informal sector as an integral part of national labour force statistics.
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 five statisticians and labour ministry officials participated from 14 Asian countries: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Mongolia, Philippines, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam. Learn more.
The Statistics Programme works with the ILO to advise countries on improving data on the informal economy and its workers. An example is the recent consultation with Thailand’s National Statistical Office. At the request of Poonsap Tulapan, coordinator of HomeNet Thailand, the Statistical Office of Thailand hosted a seminar and discussion in 2017 to improve official data on home-based workers (both independent home-based workers and homeworkers) and domestic workers. This also provided the opportunity to review and advise on survey questions related to identifying informal employment and employment in the informal sector. The seminar was led by Martha Chen, Senior Advisor to WIEGO, and Joann Vanek, Director of WIEGO’s Statistics Programme. Attendees included the Director of the Labour Force Survey Unit and the Labour Force Survey team; the Director of the Informal Labour Protection Division of the Department of Labour and Welfare and his staff; the Director of the Statistics Division of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); and representatives from HomeNet Thailand. Although ILO was not able to attend the consultation, it collaborated with WIEGO in proposing changes to the 2017 Labour Force Survey related to the measurement of informal employment, employment in the informal sector and categories of informal workers. In addition, questions were added to this survey to test the proposed new category in the revision of the International Classification of Status in Employment. The proposed changes were included in the survey; WIEGO and the ILO continue to collaborate with Wissanee Poonsab of the Thailand Labour Statistics Team.
In 2019, "Informal Workers in Urban Thailand: A Statistical Snapshot" was produced.
Research on Methods
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:
- A Guide to Obtaining Data on Types of Informal Workers in Official Statistics (Joann Vanek, Martha Chen and Govindan Raveendran)
- Measurement of Employment-Related Income: Concepts, Data Sources and a Test of Methods (Farhad Mehran)
- Relating Quality of Employment to Informal Employment (Francoise Carré, Rodrigo Negrete and Joann Vanek).
- Are Differences in National Definitions of Informal Employment and Employment in the Informal Sector Necessary? (Farhad Mehran)
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:
- Informal Employment in South Africa (Debbie Budlender)
- Informal Employment in Brazil (Debbie Budlender)
- Informal Employment in Kenya (Debbie Budlender)
- Informal Employment in Ghana (Debbie Budlender)
- Waste Pickers in Brazil (Sonia M. Dias)
- Domestic Workers in Latin America (Victor Tokman)
- Informal Sector and Informal Employment for 11 Cities in 10 Developing Countries (Herrera, Javier, Mathias Kuépié, Christophe J. Nordman, Xavier Oudin and François Roubaud)
Linking Informality, Poverty and Gender Inequality
Progress 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.
This 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.
For questions or comments about the data here or WIEGO's use of statistics, please email the Statistics Programme.