Institutional constraints for the extension of social insurance coverage to informal economy workers in China

Zhuoyi Vincent WEN, Jiwei QIAN

Research output: Journal PublicationsPolicy or Profession paperProfession


This research brief considers institutional and administrative barriers for expanding social insurance coverage to workers in the informal economy in China.

While urban employee social insurance has widened significantly in recent years, workers in the informal economy lack pension and medical coverage to the extent and at the levels of adequacy enjoyed by urban formal employees.

China’s fragmented and decentralized social protection delivery and fiscal systems limit the country’s capacity to implement national policy guidelines promoting social insurance coverage.

The decentralisation of social insurance administration creates opportunities for service innovation, responsiveness, and adaptation to local social and economic circumstances.

However, the mismatch between national policy objectives and local capacities and incentives for their implementation crowd out efforts to secure the adequate protection of workers in the informal economy.

The brief presents some of the causes of these misalignments and illustrates some ways through which China is attempting to overcome regulatory and administrative barriers to policy implementation.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalILO Research Brief
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

While as authors we take full responsibility for the content of this research brief, we wish to acknowledge valuable feedback from Claire Courteille-Mulder, Director of the ILO Beijing, Shahrashoub Razavi, Director at the Social Protection Department, ILO Geneva, Florence Bonnet, Labour market and informal economy specialist at Work quality Department, ILO Geneva, Nuno Cunha, Senior Social Protection Technical Specialist, ILO Bangkok and Luis Frota, Chief Technical Advisor on Social Protection, ILO Beijing. We also thank the China Social Insurance Administration for their pertinent opinions.


  • Informal employment
  • social protection
  • social security
  • informal economy
  • insurance


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