Working Paper
Transforming informal work and livelihoods in China

The informal sector has long been viewed as a locus of the disadvantaged, unskilled, and inexperienced workers in under-developed and developing economies. Workers in the informal sector, however, can learn skills and gain experience that could help them switch to better-paying jobs in the formal sector. But evidence of this is limited.

China constitutes an important case study because it is the most populous country and has the largest labour force, consisting of over 290 million rural-to-urban migrants whose employment is mostly informal.

Using three waves of nationally representative household surveys from 2014 to 2018, we study how the livelihoods of Chinese workers change when transitioning to different work statuses within or between formal and informal sectors.

Our results show that transitioning jobs from the informal to the formal sector and from the self-employed to the wage-employed increases earnings, which improves the livelihoods of Chinese workers.