How does the informal economy affect GDP calculations?

The informal economy, which includes unregistered businesses and unreported income, can significantly affect GDP calculations. As this sector operates outside official records, it often leads to underestimations or inaccuracies in GDP measurements, impacting the overall assessment of a country's economic activity.

The informal economy, also known as the shadow or underground economy, comprises economic activities that are not monitored or regulated by the government. These activities often go unreported, and participants may not comply with tax regulations or labor laws. The informal economy can have several effects on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) calculations:

  1. Underestimation of GDP:

    • The informal economy is not included in official GDP calculations because the transactions and income generated in this sector are not reported to government authorities. As a result, the official GDP figures may underestimate the total economic output of a country.
  2. Missed Economic Activities:

    • Informal economic activities may involve the production and exchange of goods and services that contribute to the overall economic well-being of a society. These activities, such as street vending, small-scale services, and unregistered businesses, may not be captured in formal GDP estimates.
  3. Employment and Income:

    • Informal employment, which is prevalent in the informal economy, contributes to overall employment figures but may not be reflected in official labor statistics. As a result, the contribution of informal workers to the overall income and well-being of the population may be underestimated.
  4. Tax Revenues:

    • Because economic activities in the informal sector often go unreported, tax revenues generated from these activities are not collected. This can lead to a reduction in government revenue, affecting the government's ability to fund public services and infrastructure.
  5. Quality of Jobs:

    • Informal employment may be characterized by lower wages, lack of job security, and limited access to social benefits. While these jobs contribute to the livelihoods of individuals, they may not be reflected accurately in measures of income and labor market quality within the formal GDP framework.
  6. Impact on Economic Policies:

    • Governments may formulate economic policies based on incomplete information if the informal economy is not adequately considered. Policies related to taxation, social security, and labor regulations may be less effective or may have unintended consequences if the informal sector is not taken into account.
  7. Dynamic Nature:

    • The size and nature of the informal economy can change over time. Economic events, policy changes, and social factors can influence the dynamics of informal economic activities. Failure to account for these changes can lead to inaccuracies in assessing overall economic performance.

While the informal economy poses challenges to accurate GDP calculations, efforts are made to estimate its size and impact through various statistical techniques. Economists and policymakers use indirect methods, surveys, and modeling to estimate the contribution of the informal sector to the overall economy. These efforts help provide a more comprehensive understanding of economic activity, especially in regions where the informal economy plays a significant role.

Assessing the Impact of the Informal Economy on GDP.

Sure, here is an assessment of the impact of the informal economy on GDP:


The informal economy encompasses economic activities that are not fully documented, regulated, or taxed by the government. These activities include unregistered businesses, household production, and unpaid work. The informal economy is a significant part of many economies, particularly in developing countries. However, its contribution to GDP is often underestimated due to the difficulty of measuring its size and scope.

Challenges in Measuring the Informal Economy

Measuring the size of the informal economy is challenging due to its clandestine nature and lack of reliable data. Various methods have been developed to estimate the size of the informal economy, including:

  • Currency demand approach: This method estimates the size of the informal economy by comparing the demand for cash with the demand for goods and services that are typically purchased with cash.

  • Labor force approach: This method estimates the size of the informal economy by comparing the total labor force to the number of employed workers in the formal sector.

  • Household surveys: Surveys can be used to collect data on household production and unpaid work, which are often significant components of the informal economy.

Estimated Size of the Informal Economy

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that the informal economy accounts for 9.3% of global GDP, with the highest share in developing countries (38.7%). In Africa, the informal economy is estimated to account for 44.9% of GDP, while in Asia it accounts for 30.6%.

Impact of the Informal Economy on GDP

The informal economy has a significant impact on GDP, both directly and indirectly. Directly, the informal economy contributes to GDP through the production of goods and services. Indirectly, the informal economy contributes to GDP by providing employment and income to a large portion of the population.

Benefits of the Informal Economy

The informal economy provides several benefits, including:

  • Employment creation: The informal economy is a major source of employment, particularly for low-skilled and unskilled workers.

  • Entrepreneurial opportunities: The informal economy provides opportunities for entrepreneurs to start and operate businesses without facing the regulatory burdens of the formal sector.

  • Poverty reduction: The informal economy provides income-generating opportunities for individuals and households, contributing to poverty reduction.

Challenges of the Informal Economy

The informal economy also presents challenges, including:

  • Tax evasion: Businesses in the informal economy often evade taxes, which reduces government revenue.

  • Labor market distortions: The informal economy can distort labor markets by providing lower wages and fewer benefits than the formal sector.

  • Vulnerability to shocks: Workers in the informal economy are often more vulnerable to economic shocks, such as recessions or natural disasters.

Policy Considerations

Policymakers face the challenge of balancing the benefits of the informal economy with the need to reduce its negative impacts. Some potential policy approaches include:

  • Formalization initiatives: Programs that help informal businesses register and comply with regulations can increase tax revenue and improve labor market conditions.

  • Social safety nets: Providing social safety nets, such as unemployment insurance and healthcare, can protect workers in the informal economy from economic shocks.

  • Skill development: Investing in skill development programs can help workers in the informal economy transition to higher-paying jobs in the formal sector.


The informal economy is a significant and complex component of many economies. Measuring its size and impact is challenging, but understanding its role is essential for effective economic policymaking. Policies that aim to formalize businesses, provide social safety nets, and invest in skill development can help to mitigate the negative impacts of the informal economy while harnessing its potential for job creation and poverty reduction.