Statistics on the size, composition, contribution, and other dimensions of the informal economy are needed to inform economic and social policies.
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: Key Facts
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|
BY COUNTRIES and CITIES
The advocates and policymakers who work with WIEGO need statistics on informal workers to support their demands. However, at the city level where many policies, regulations and plans directly affect informal workers, data on informal workers have not been available. 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 Michael Rogan
- Informal Workers in Urban Thailand: A Statistical Snapshot (2019) by Wissanee Poonsab, Joann Vanek and Françoise Carré
- Informal Workers in Ghana: A Statistical Snapshot (2020) by William Baah-Boateng and Joann Vanek
- Informal Workers in Mexico: A Statistical Snapshot (2020) by José de Jesús Luján Salazar & Joann Vanek (en español)
- Informal Workers in India: A Statistical Profile (2020) by Govindan Raveendran and Joann Vanek
Statistical tables WIEGO commissioned on informal employment and workers in 19 cities, originally published in 2016 in the WIEGO Dashboard.
Additional Data for India
The results of the 2017-18 Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) of India showed a sharp drop from 2011-12 in the rates of women’s employment. This survey, however, introduced changes in design and operations from earlier surveys. To understand the impact of these changes on rates of women’s employment, WIEGO commissioned Dr. Govindan Raveendran to prepare a history of the methods and operations of labour force surveys in India, with a focus on those methods that could affect the measurement of women’s employment. (See Measurement of Labour and Employment in India- Conceptual and Procedural Framework). In addition, Dr. Raveendran updated the statistical tables for 2017-18 with the 2018-19 PLFS data (see below).
Tables on informal employment and informal workers based on the India Periodic Labour Force Survey 2018-19.
Tables supplementing information in WIEGO Statistical Brief No. 24, Informal Workers in India: A Statistical Profile, with data for additional cities.
A table on the composition of informal employment by sector of industry and specific groups of workers.
- Home-based Workers in the World: A Statistical Profile (2021) by Florence Bonnet, Françoise Carré, Joann Vanek, and Martha Chen
- Home-based Workers in India: A Statistical Profile (2020) by Govindan Raveendran
- Home-based Workers in Bangladesh: A Statistical Profile (2020) by Gayatri Koolwal & Joann Vanek
- Home-based Workers in Pakistan: A Statistical Profile (2020) by Sajjad Akhtar
- Home-based Workers in Nepal, 2017-18: A Statistical Profile (2021) by Gayatri Koolwal & Joann Vanek
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.
For questions or comments about the data here or WIEGO's use of statistics, please email the Statistics Programme.