Shedding Light on the Shadow Economy: A Global Database and the Interaction with the Official One

Leandro Medina & Friedrich Schneider

Published: June 2020

The shadow or informal economy covers all economic activities which are hidden from official authorities for monetary, regulatory and institutional reasons. Although widely used, multiple indicator-multiple cause (MIMIC) models have been criticised, and we develop a modified model and database covering 157 countries over the years 1991 to 2017. We tested our model using satellite data on nocturnal light intensity as a proxy for the size of countries’ economies, and compared our results with the figures of 23 countries’ national statistical offices, finding stable and similar results. The average over all countries and over the whole period is 30.9% of GDP. The shadow economy is large in some regions (Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa) and there is sizeable heterogeneity within regions. On average, from 1991 to 2017 the shadow economy declined by 6.8%. In the short term the shadow economy has a negative impact on the official one and in the long term it has a positive effect.

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