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Rethinking the marginalisation thesis: An evaluation of the socio-spatial variations in undeclared work in the European Union

Colin C Williams (Management School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Ioana Alexandra Horodnic (“Gh. Zane” Institute for Economic and Social Research, Romanian Academy Iasi Branch, Iasi, Romania)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 5 January 2015




The purpose of this paper is to evaluate critically the “marginalisation” thesis, which holds that marginalised populations disproportionately participate in undeclared work. Until now, the evidence that participation in undeclared work is higher in marginalised areas (e.g. peripheral rural localities) and marginalised socio-economic groups (e.g. the unemployed, immigrant populations and women) has come from mostly small-scale surveys of particular localities and population groups. There have been no extensive quantitative surveys. Here, the intention is to fill this gap.


To do this, we report a 2007 survey of participation in undeclared work involving 26,659 face-to-face interviews conducted in 27 European Union (EU) member states.


The finding is that the marginalisation thesis is valid when discussing younger people and those living in peripheral rural areas; they are more likely to participate in undeclared work. However, there is no significant association between immigrant populations and participation in undeclared work. Moreover, a reinforcement thesis, which holds that the undeclared economy reinforces the spatial and socio-economic disparities produced by the declared economy, applies when considering those with fewer years in education, women, the unemployed and less affluent European regions; they have lower participation rates than higher educated people, men, the employed and affluent European regions.

Research limitations/implications

The outcome is a call for a more nuanced understanding of the marginalisation thesis as valid for some marginalised populations but not others. Whether similar findings prevail at other spatial scales and in other global regions now needs investigating.

Practical implications

This survey displays that although it is appropriate to target some marginalised populations when tackling undeclared work, this is not valid for others (e.g. immigrant populations, the unemployed, those living in less affluent EU regions).


The first extensive evaluation of whether marginalised populations are more likely to participate in undeclared work.



This paper is supported by the Sectoral Operational Programme Human Resources Development (SOP HRD), grant number SOP HRD/159/1.5/S/133675, financed from the European Social Fund and by the Romanian Government under the contract number POSDRU 159/1.5/S/133675. The usual disclaimers apply.


Williams, C.C. and Horodnic, I.A. (2015), "Rethinking the marginalisation thesis: An evaluation of the socio-spatial variations in undeclared work in the European Union", Employee Relations, Vol. 37 No. 1, pp. 48-65.



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