Why is informal employment more common in some countries? An exploratory analysis of 112 countries

Colin Charles Williams (Management School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Adrian Vasile Horodnic (Faculty of Medicine, Grigore T. Popa University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Iasi, Romania)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Publication date: 7 October 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to evaluate competing explanations for the greater prevalence of informal employment in some countries rather than others. These variously explain informal employment to be a result of either economic under-development and the lack of modernisation of governance (“modernisation” theory), higher taxes and too much state intervention (“neo-liberal” theory) or inadequate government intervention to protect workers from poverty (“political economy” theory).

Design/methodology/approach

To do this, an International Labour Organisation data base produced in 2018 on the prevalence of informal employment in 112 countries (comprising 90 per cent of the global workforce) is analysed, and macro-level economic and social conditions reflecting each of these theories tested using bivariate regressions.

Findings

The prevalence of informal employment ranges from 94.6 per cent of total employment in Burkina Faso to 1.2 per cent in Luxembourg. Evaluating the validity of the competing theories, neo-liberal theory is refuted, and a call made to synthesise the modernisation and political economy perspectives in a new “neo-modernisation” theory that tentatively associates the greater prevalence of informal employment with lower economic under-development, greater levels of public sector corruption, smaller government and lower levels of state intervention to protect workers from poverty.

Practical implications

This paper tentatively reveals the structural economic and social conditions that need to be addressed globally to reduce informal employment.

Originality/value

This is the first paper to report the results of a harmonised data set based on common criteria to measure the varying prevalence of informal employment globally (across 112 countries representing 90 per cent of global employment) in order to determine the structural economic and social conditions associated with higher levels of informal employment.

Keywords

Citation

Williams, C.C. and Horodnic, A.V. (2019), "Why is informal employment more common in some countries? An exploratory analysis of 112 countries", Employee Relations, Vol. 41 No. 6, pp. 1434-1450. https://doi.org/10.1108/ER-10-2018-0285

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Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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