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Missing women? The under-recording and under-reporting of women's work in Malaysia


  • See the previous Special Issue on women's labour force participation in International Labour Review, Vol. 144 (2005), No. 4.

  • Responsibility for opinions expressed in signed articles rests solely with their authors, and publication does not constitute an endorsement by the ILO.


Common methods to collect data on women's labour force participation frequently result in under-reporting and under-recording of their work. Based on fieldwork in Malaysia's Penang state, this article presents some of the difficulties associated with recording women's informal work. It contributes to theorization on the under-reporting of women's remunerative activities in official surveys by arguing that while women's work is often devalued, under-reporting may also be the result of women making strategic and pragmatic choices. By reporting themselves as “housewives”, for example, they may avoid questioning their society's gendered norms while securing their own interests in work outside the home.