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Demography and Dispossession: Explaining the Growth of the Global Informal Workforce, 1950-2000

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 September 2019


Since 1950, the world’s urban labor force has expanded dramatically, a process that has been accompanied by a large increase in informal employment. Accounts of these phenomena generally assume that urban workers without formal work are mostly recent migrants from the countryside. This article shows that outside of China, most of the growth of the world’s urban workforce has been the consequence of demographic expansion rather than rural-to-urban migration. A large portion of the world’s growing urban-born workforce has ended up in informal employment. I develop a concept of demographic dispossession to explain the relatively autonomous role demographic growth has played, first, in the proletarianization of the global population and, second, in the informalization of the urban workforce. I then explore the reasons why demographic growth in low- and medium-income countries tended to be more rapid and urban than demographic growth had been historically in the high-income countries.

Research Article
© Social Science History Association, 2019 

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