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

Drawing on a new ILO database, this report provides an up-to-date and realistic assessment of the global contribution of self-employment and micro- and small enterprises to employment – both in the formal and the informal economy.

How relevant are micro-enterprises and SMEs for the future of work? What about the self-employed?

Until recently, there was relatively limited empirical evidence available to answer these questions. Many earlier studies did not cover the informal economy, which in many countries is the largest contributor to employment. There has also been growing recognition of the role of self-employment and micro-enterprises in driving employment.

Thanks to a new ILO database using data from household, labour and other statistical surveys conducted in 99 countries between 2009 and 2018, we now have a much better picture. The contribution of small economic units to worldwide total employment is striking, but there remain considerable challenges such as widespread informal employment (especially in developing countries), gender gaps, and issues related to the productivity and job quality in smaller firms. A proper understanding of the contribution of small economic units is key to advancing the ILO Decent Work Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.