This is Part 1 in a two-part series on a new study of on-demand workers. Check back later for Part 2, an interview with Steve King, one of the lead researchers behind this study.
On the night of the Super Bowl, a good friend of mine with impeccable taste stayed home and ordered takeout — for a bottle of wine. I didn’t know you could order wine the same way you order a pizza, but a quick internet search showed me how behind the times I am.
I was familiar with ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft, but did not know that the same model applied for haircuts (the “on-demand grooming service” Shortcut will send a trained barber to your home), massages, laundry, you name it. And behind them are, of course, millions of gig workers.
In 2015, in partnership with Emergent Research, Intuit began conducting research into the on-demand or gig economy in the United States. “Our original research goal was to provide concrete data on who was working in the on-demand economy and their motivations, attitudes and demographics,” said Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research.
The results of the two-year study are available in a presentation titled Dispatches from the New Economy: The On-Demand Workforce. A more formal report with additional data that dive deeper into key findings will be released in March.
In the meantime, we thought it relevant to cover these key findings. I posed some questions to King, who gave more background and insight into the research.
The release of this report is certainly timely. Intuit and Emergent Research predict that the contingent workforce in the U.S. will balloon to 9.2 million in 2021 from the current 3.9 million. By 2020, more than 40% of the U.S. workforce is expected to be independent contractors.
The study surveyed 6,247 users from 12 on-demand economy companies, including TaskRabbit, Upwork, Catalant, Wonolo and Work Market. (Spend Matters has published detailed analyses of the latter four platforms.)
Looking at the demographic breakdown of the respondents, the average age is 40, with 76% under the age of 52. They’re more or less evenly split between men (59%) and women (41%) but lean heavily towards the formally educated. Nearly two-thirds hold a four-year college degree, with 28% holding a graduate or professional degree. When I asked King about this, he told me that the respondent pool is meant to reflect the overall on-demand worker population, including education levels.
“Even Uber and Lyft drivers on average are better educated than the average American,” King said. “This is because even highly educated people need a source of highly flexible, low friction part-time work.”
Why Pursue On-Demand Work?
It sounds logical to say that people pursue gigs when they have yet to find traditional employment. This is what the researchers at Intuit and Emergent Research thought too. But the results of this study turned this hypothesis on its head.
What the research found instead is that on-demand work is largely used to supplement existing income and fulfills near-term financial needs. Among the 6,427 respondents, 27% held a “traditional full-time job” and 14% worked part-time in addition to their gig(s). The average respondent was spending 11 hours a week doing on-demand work and earned 24% of their household income through it.
One in five began on-demand work due to a financial hardship, which might be job loss or a health emergency or another unexpected big expense. What’s more, as King said, “of those who reported experiencing a financial hardship, 51% said this hardship was the primary reason or one of the reasons they chose to work in the on-demand economy.”
Are Gig Workers Happy?
Source: Dispatches From the New Economy: The On-Demand Workforce
What is perhaps surprising is that two-thirds of the respondents are satisfied with on-demand work, as you can see from the chart above. Only 14% said they are worse off working in the on-demand economy (though half said it has had neither a positive nor a negative effect on their finances). Four out of five said they plan to continue doing on-demand work in the next 12 months.
When we look at the chart showing “additional activities workers currently engage in,” we see that the respondents have a myriad of backgrounds and potential reasons for doing gig work. For only 5% is the on-demand work their only source of income — though this might be intentional. Perhaps among them are new parents or full-time homemakers looking for some extra cash.
I wondered whether certain generations or demographic groups have higher or lower opinions of on-demand work. According to King, the millennial and Baby Boomer generations tend to be the most comfortable with gig work. “This is because they are at a life stage where job security is less important,” he said. Indeed, 5% of the respondents are retired. For them, on-demand work can be a welcome source of additional income, or simply something to do for the restless.
But what about job stability? King suggested that it comes down to your comfort with risk, pointing out that 60% of Americans do not have good risk profiles for self-employment. The other 40% is possibly more likely to be satisfied with on-demand work, which is one form of self-employment.
I encourage you to look through the research findings for yourself. Be sure to check back for the Q&A with King, as well.