Just published! A practical guide for measuring labor in household surveys


This page in:

Employment and Own-Use Production in Household Surveys: A Practical Guide for Measuring LaborLabor statistics are important for a variety of purposes. In countries with more developed labor markets, unemployment rates often make headline news. Other labor statistics indicators—labor force participation rates, employment-to-population ratios, indicators of own use production work, etc.—are equally important to understand broader labor market trends, to design programs, and evaluate public policies. To promote a better understanding of labor indicators and the consistent application of the latest statistical standards, the LSMS group, in partnership with the Gender Group, just released the new guidebook Employment and Own-Use Production in Household Surveys: A Practical Guide for Measuring Labor.

This latest addition to the LSMS series provides expert advice on how to measure employment and work in multi-topic household surveys, in accordance with standards adopted at the 19th International Conference of Labor Statisticians (ICLS). The target audience includes statisticians, social scientists and survey practitioners in national statistics offices, international and development organizations, and academic institutions, among others. The methods and recommendations presented are part of ongoing World Bank and ILO efforts to operationalize the 19th ICLS standards and are informed by the results of the joint ILO–World Bank study in Sri Lanka. They are most relevant for multi-topic household surveys, e.g., household budget surveys, income and expenditure surveys, or LSMS-style surveys. They may also be useful for smaller-scale or specialized household surveys, which require the collection of labor data, alongside other topics. They are not intended to inform the design of labor force surveys, censuses or similar types of data collection efforts, on which separate guidance exists).

The guidebook presents a model labor module that allows for a comprehensive measurement of the participation of the working-age population in various forms of work. For example, the data collected can produce headline labor market and labor underutilization indicators, as well as more recently established indicators on own-use production of goods.

To produce statistics and indicators that conform to the 19th ICLS standards, the labor module questionnaire should include the following:

  • A set of core questions covering work for pay (including paid training or apprenticeship), work for profit (self-employed or work in a non-farm household enterprise), and agricultural and related activities (farming, livestock, fishing, foraging) whether for own-use or for sale.
  • Targeted “recovery” questions to capture work and employment information on individuals who may not identify their activities as such although they fall within the 19th ICLS classifications.
  • Detailed information on primary employment, including characteristics by industry, sector, working time, earnings, job attachment, and level of informality. To determine the classification of agricultural work, questionnaires will need to distinguish between production for own use (work) or for sale (employment).
  • Information on second jobs and potential desire for additional work, which will allow for a nuanced understanding of the labor force. The latter is also required to calculate time-related underemployment.
  • Questions to determine which persons currently absent from their job qualify as “temporarily absent” for labor statistics purposes. The duration of and reason for the absence, as well as the type of work, impact the determination.
  • Job search information to classify individuals who are unemployed or outside the labor force, such as questions on whether the person is looking for work, is available to work, or desires additional work.

Optional questions on difficulties experienced at work (problems related to promotions, overqualification for work, pay increases, harassment, etc.) may provide additional gender analysis insights.

The basic flow of questions in this new labor module is summarized in the figure below.

labor module flow of questions

The guidebook does not yet include recommendations or sample questions for the measurement of work to provide services for own use.

This includes activities such as caring for children and the elderly, cooking, and cleaning, activities which tend to be shouldered disproportionately by women. Though data on which household members are engaged in these activities, and for how long, are extremely important to understanding gender differences in terms of overall workload and time poverty, capturing such work with stylized recall questions is complicated for a number of reasons. For example, a mother may be the primary caregiver for her children, while simultaneously running the household or operating a small, income-generating business. This makes it difficult to separate and quantify the time spent on each distinct task. Currently, the ILO and the World Bank are testing potential modules for measuring these types of work. This guidebook is a living document and will be constantly updated to reflect these and other new findings.

To read the guidebook or download editable versions of the questionnaire module and the interviewer manual click here. The full collection of LSMS guidebooks are also available for download.


Josefine Durazo

Survey Specialist, Data Production & Methods, DECDG, World Bank

Amparo Palacios-Lopez

Senior Economist in the Development Data Group of the World Bank

Giulia Altomare

Communications Consultant, Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS), World Bank

Join the Conversation