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Small Matters

Global evidence on the contribution to employment by the self-employed, micro-enterprises, and SMEs

This report examines worldwide evidence of the contribution that the self-employed and enterprises of different size classes make to total employment. A key finding is that, globally, the self-employed and micro-and small enterprises (hereafter referred to as “small economic units”) account for the largest share of total employment.

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The estimates presented here are based on a new ILO database that draws on national household and labour force surveys (as opposed to firm-based surveys) from 99 countries in all the world regions except for North America. Because these surveys target people rather than firms, they are able to cover self-employment and employment in all types of enterprises:

  • Enterprises from all size classes: micro-enterprises (with 2 to 9 employees), small enterprises (with 10 to 49 employees), and medium-sized/large enterprises (with 50 or more employees);
  • Enterprises from the informal as well as the formal sector;
  • Enterprises from agriculture, industry, and services (including public services).

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that the employment contribution of the self-employed and of micro-, small, and medium-sized/large enterprises have been estimated for such a large group of countries – in particular, for low- and medium-income countries. Previous studies (e.g. ILO and GIZ, 2013) were hampered by a lack of data on the self-employed and micro-enterprises, which made it very difficult to obtain reliable estimates and to compare properly the employment shares of the various types of economic units.