Explaining the Normality of Informal Employment in Ukraine: A Product of Exit or Exclusion?

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This article evaluates critically the competing explanations for the persistence and growth of informal employment in contemporary societies. These interpret the normality of informality either through a structuralist lens as arising out of "exclusion" from state benefits and the circuits of the modern economy or through a neoliberal and/or post-structuralist lens as driven by the voluntary "exit" of workers out of formal institutions and into this alternative realm. To evaluate critically the validity of these competing explanations, this article reports a 2005/6 survey of informal employment in post-socialist Ukraine. Analyzing the results of 600 face-to-face interviews, the finding is that either/or explanations need to be transcended. Informal employment is neither universally driven by exclusion nor exit. Instead, some participate mostly due to exclusion, others mostly for exit rationales, and some for a combination of the two, with different mixtures across different populations and types of informal employment. The outcome is a call to move towards more context-bound understandings of the pervasiveness of informality through greater appreciation of the heterogeneity of this sphere and how both exit and exclusion are variously entwined in different settings.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)729-755
Number of pages27
JournalAmerican Journal of Economics and Sociology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2011