Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Political Science

First Advisor

Gregory Love

Second Advisor

Alice Cooper

Third Advisor

Lauren Ferry

Relational Format



Labor informality is a vexing issue across Latin America, with negative implications for policy areas from economic growth to social safety nets. Despite decades of efforts by national governments and international organizations, informality levels remain stubbornly high across the region. Insights from the extant literature suggest informality arises because creating formal sector jobs is too costly or the costs of formality for workers are too high. In contrast to most previous works on informality, this project steps back from standard materialistic assumptions and aims to uncover how the overall relationship between states and citizens impacts workers' incentives to work formally. This work posits workers' resistance to formality, despite the stability and protections it promises, derives from a lack of trust and long-standing view that the state has repeatedly failed to provide credible and reliable benefits/services or improvements in their living standards. The empirical results from this dissertation support the contention. At the country level, across Latin American countries, aspects affecting the nature and quality of the state's relationship with citizens relate to higher levels of labor informality. In addition, these factors, particularly corruption, condition the effectiveness of mainstream labor reform policies – labor market flexibilization and businesses regulations– to reduce informality levels. Furthermore, primary and secondary data at the individual level in the Colombian context suggest first, individuals feel comfortable with the conditions of informality and choose informality voluntarily. And second, there is an empirical link between trust in the state and an individuals’ decision to demand an informal job over a comparable formal job alternative. All in all, this dissertation suggests putting the state and the quality of the relationship with its citizens as a central analytical element to understand the issue of informality is essential.



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