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The income of informal economic activities: Estimating the yield of begging in Brussels


  • Adriaenssens, Stef

    () (Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel (HUB), Belgium)

  • Hendrickx, Jef

    () (Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel (HUB), Belgium)


This article proposes and applies a method to estimate the revenues of beggars in Brussels (Belgium). This is relevant for three reasons. First, though the literature on the informal economy assumes that the income will be low, we lack reliable empirical knowledge of informal street-level activities like begging, in particular due to the prevalence of many irregular Eastern-European immigrants among the begging population. Second, popular representation of beggars often depicts them as fraudulent, criminal and wealthy. Finally, the assumption of criminal organizations behind beggars legitimated the recent criminalization of (aspects of) begging in Western countries, e.g. in Belgium and France. An analysis of existing attempts to measure beggars’ income teaches us that the best design is to triangulate with data from different sources. Three datasets were collected, based on observation, self-reports and quasi-experimental observations. The combination of these datasets allows for more reliable and valid conclusions. The hypotheses based upon popular myths and the assumptions behind the criminalization of begging are dismissed. The evidence does seem to support the hypothesis based upon the literature on informal activities.

Suggested Citation

  • Adriaenssens, Stef & Hendrickx, Jef, 2008. "The income of informal economic activities: Estimating the yield of begging in Brussels," Working Papers 2008/16, Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel, Faculteit Economie en Management.
  • Handle: RePEc:hub:wpecon:200816

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