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Is Informality Bad? Evidence from Brazil, Mexico and South Africa

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  • Bargain, Olivier

    (Université Montesquieu Bordeaux IV)

  • Magejo, Prudence

    (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)

Abstract

The informal sector plays an important role in the functioning of labor markets in emerging economies. To characterize better this highly heterogeneous sector, we conduct a distributional analysis of the earnings gap between informal and formal employment in Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, distinguishing between dependent and independent workers. For each country, we use rich panel data to estimate fixed effects quantile regressions to control for (time-invariant) unobserved heterogeneity. The dual nature of the informal sector emerges from our results. In the high-tier segment, self-employed workers receive a significant earnings premium that may compensate the benefits obtained in formal jobs. In the lower end of the earnings distribution, both informal wage earners and independent (own account) workers face significant earnings penalties vis-à-vis the formal sector. Yet the dual structure is not balanced in the same way in all three countries. Most of the self-employment carries a premium in Mexico. In contrast, the upper-tier segment is marginal in South Africa, and informal workers, both dependent and independent, form a largely penalized group. More consistent with the competitive view, earnings differentials are small at all levels in Brazil.

Suggested Citation

  • Bargain, Olivier & Magejo, Prudence, 2010. "Is Informality Bad? Evidence from Brazil, Mexico and South Africa," IZA Discussion Papers 4711, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp4711
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    2. François Langot & Rossana Merola & Samil Oh, 2022. "Can taxes help ensure a fair globalization?," International Economics, CEPII research center, issue 171, pages 191-213.
    3. Nordman, Christophe J. & Rakotomanana, Faly & Roubaud, François, 2016. "Informal versus Formal: A Panel Data Analysis of Earnings Gaps in Madagascar," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 1-17.
    4. Aysit Tansel & Elif Oznur Acar, 2016. "The Formal/Informal Employment Earnings Gap: Evidence from Turkey," Research on Economic Inequality,in: Inequality after the 20th Century: Papers from the Sixth ECINEQ Meeting, volume 24, pages 121-154 Emerald Publishing Ltd.
    5. Gustavo A. García, 2017. "Labor Informality: Choice or Sign of Segmentation? A Quantile Regression Approach at the Regional Level for Colombia," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 21(4), pages 985-1017, November.
    6. Aalia Cassim & Kezia Lilenstein & Morne Oosthuizen & Francois Steenkamp, 2016. "Informality and Inclusive Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa," Working Papers 201602, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
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    8. John P. Haisken-DeNew & Maren M. Michaelsen, 2011. "Migration Magnet: The Role of Work Experience in Rural-Urban Wage Diff erentials in Mexico," Ruhr Economic Papers 0263, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universität Dortmund, Universität Duisburg-Essen.
    9. Andy McKay & Jukka Pirttilä & Caroline Schimanski, 2019. "The tax elasticity of formal work in African countries," WIDER Working Paper Series wp-2019-69, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    10. Stephen Dobson & Carlyn Ramlogan-Dobson & Eric Strobl, 2020. "Savings and the informal sector," International Review of Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 34(2), pages 217-234, March.
    11. Roberto Gallardo Del Ange, 2019. "An Analysis on Gross Flows of Workers in Mexico," Economía: teoría y práctica, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, México, vol. 50(1), pages 145-172, Enero-Jun.
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    13. Naudé, Wim & Amorós, José Ernesto & Cristi, Oscar, 2013. ""Romanticizing Penniless Entrepreneurs?" The Relationship between Start-Ups and Human Wellbeing across Countries," IZA Discussion Papers 7547, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    14. Araujo, Luis Fernando Oliveira de & Ponczek, Vladimir Pinheiro, 2012. "Informal wages in an economy with active labor courts," Textos para discussão 294, FGV EESP - Escola de Economia de São Paulo, Fundação Getulio Vargas (Brazil).
    15. repec:dau:papers:123456789/12321 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. McKay Andy & Pirttilä Jukka & Schimanski Caroline, 2018. "The Elasticity of Formal Work in African Countries," Working Papers 1820, Tampere University, Faculty of Management and Business, Economics.
    17. Cho, Yoonyoung, 2011. "Informality and protection from health shocks : lessons from Yemen," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5746, The World Bank.
    18. Michaelsen, Maren M. & Haisken-DeNew, John P., 2011. "Migration Magnet: The Role of Work Experience in Rural-Urban Wage Differentials in Mexico," Ruhr Economic Papers 263, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
    19. Kishan Shah, 2022. "Diagnosing South Africa’s High Unemployment and Low Informality," CID Working Papers 138a, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    20. Azuara, Oliver & Marinescu, Ioana, 2013. "Informality and the expansion of social protection programs: Evidence from Mexico," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(5), pages 938-950.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    fixed effects model; earnings differential; self-employed; quantile regression; informal sector; salary work;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • J23 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Demand
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements

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