IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Alternative definitions of informal sector employment in South Africa


  • Hassan Essop

    (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)

  • Derek Yu

    (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)


Before the introduction of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) in 2008, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) has been using the same methodology to derive the informal sector employment throughout the years, focusing on the enterprise registration status to classify workers (which include both self-employed and employees) as either formal or informal sector workers. Although there are difficulties with attempting to provide any consistent trend data (Yu, 2007 & Essop & Yu, 2008), it is generally accepted that informal sector employment grew relatively more rapidly in the late 1990s, and then stabilized at about 2 million in the early 2000s before it increased (albeit more slowly) again since 2005. Nonetheless, recent papers by Devey, Skinner & Valodia (2006) as well as Heintz & Posel (2008) argue that the current classifications used by Stats SA hide a significant degree of informality in the formal economy, as some formal jobs are characterized by conditions that are typical of informal work. Therefore, they propose alternative definitions of informal sector employment, focusing on worker characteristics instead of enterprise characteristics. This paper aims to address the reliability or otherwise of these recent approaches, as well as to suggest better ways to define informal sector employment.

Suggested Citation

  • Hassan Essop & Derek Yu, 2008. "Alternative definitions of informal sector employment in South Africa," Working Papers 21/2008, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers69

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: First version, 2008
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item


    South Africa; Household survey; Labour market trends; Informal sector;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J00 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - General

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers69. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no bibliographic references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Melt van Schoor (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.