Collaborative Research: A National Survey of Informal Work

Project: Research project

Project Details


Collaborative Proposals


Leif Jensen

Pennsylvania State University


Timothy Slack

Louisiana State University


Ann Tickamyer

Ohio State University

Informal work refers to work or work-like activities, apart from jobs in the formal labor market, that bring extra income or other things of value into a household. There has been ample qualitative research on the informal economy. However beginning in the early 1990's the investigators have developed, refined, and implemented a technique that allows for quantitative analysis of informal work via structured surveys administered to samples of adult individuals. The study will conduct the first nationally representative household survey of informal work in the United States.

The overarching objective of this study is to provide an empirical examination of the contours and correlates of informal work at the national-level. We have seven basic research questions. How prevalent is informal work in the United States? How does the prevalence of informal work vary spatially (for example, across the rural-urban continuum)? What is the relationship between household labor supply in the formal economy (both in terms of quantity and quality) and participation in informal work? What is the relationship between poverty, income, and participation in informal work? What is the relationship between social capital (for example, the strength of a household's social networks) and participation in informal work? What is the relationship between standard correlates of formal labor market stratification (for example, family size, race/ethnicity, and educational attainment) and participation in informal work? What is the relationship between industrial restructuring in the formal economy and participation in informal work?

Data will be collected through a telephone survey administered to a nationally representative sample of up to 1,700 adults. The survey instrument will be anchored around a set of survey items that ask about participation in several specific forms of informal work. In addition, the instrument will gather basic socio-demographic and economic information about sampled households, and geo-coding will allow us to merge and incorporate contextual information on place of residence.

The study will make important scientific contributions. It will be the first to provide reliable and generalizable evidence about the prevalence, importance and correlates of informal work, and to provide definitive evidence concerning several empirical and debated questions such as how informal work varies with formal labor supply, social capital of households, poverty status, and rural-urban residence. The broader impact of the study includes providing basic information on an important yet neglected economic survival strategy among households in the United States today. Research findings carry important implications for social policy as well. In recent years, entrepreneurship and small-business enterprise have been touted as viable economic strategies for households and their communities that may be struggling amidst industrial restructuring and attenuated support for social welfare programs. It is important therefore to understand informal work as a potential source of entrepreneurial vitality.

Effective start/end date9/15/078/31/11


  • National Science Foundation: $198,213.00


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