Explaining cross-country variations in the prevalence of informal sector competitors: lessons from the World Bank Enterprise Survey

Research paper by Colin C. Williams, Abbi M. Kedir

Indexed on: 15 Jun '18Published on: 15 Jun '18Published in: International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal


To advance understanding of informal sector entrepreneurship, the aim of this paper is to evaluate and explain the cross-country variations in the prevalence of informal sector competitors. To do so, World Bank Enterprise Survey (WBES) data is reported from 142 countries. This reveals that 27% of formal enterprises view competition from the informal sector as a major constraint on their operations, although this varies from 72% of formal enterprises in Chad to no formal enterprises in El Salvador. To explain these cross-country variations, four competing theories are evaluated which variously view informal sector entrepreneurship and enterprise to be more prevalent when there is either: economic under-development (modernisation theory); high taxes and state over-interference (neo-liberal theory); too little state intervention (political economy theory), or an asymmetry between the laws and regulations of formal institutions and the unwritten socially shared rules of informal institutions (institutional theory). A multilevel probit regression analysis confirms the modernisation and institutional theories, but not the neo-liberal and political theories. Beyond economic under-development, therefore, it is not too much or too little state intervention that is associated with the prevalence of informal sector competition but rather, whether the laws and regulations developed by governments are in symmetry with the norms, values and beliefs of entrepreneurs. The paper concludes by discussing the theoretical and policy implications of these findings.