Introduction and Brief Background
This report represents the results of a survey sponsored in part by PayQuicker, LLC. The survey, which was conducted in April 2023, is a component of the years-long Ultimate Gig Research Project, a program dedicated to empirically and systematically assessing trends in the “gig economy” to inform and improve both business and public policy-related decision making.
The “gig economy” is an amorphous umbrella term that encompasses subsets such as the “sharing economy,” the “on-demand economy,” and the “platform economy.” Recent estimates peg the gig economy at $1 trillion dollars or more in the United States at present, with an average annual growth rate of 16-17%, and involving nearly 100 million gig workers BY 2027.
At its essence, the gig economy is a channel mechanism for effectively and efficiently linking gig workers and their customers. Gig workers that populate the gig economy are independent contractors who primarily pursue part-time income opportunities and are typically compensated using pay-for-performance criteria. Collectively, surveys conducted for the Ultimate Gig Research Project present a comprehensive portrait of self-identified gig workers that captures their heterogeneity. This gig worker heterogeneity and the heterogeneous nature and rapid growth of the gig economy have major implications, not only for business but for government and society as well, especially when considered in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the digital labor platforms that operate within the gig economy. These implications include redefining the concept of, and compensation for, work; adopting and adapting gig-based business models; and assuming responsibility for training workers and compliance with governmental regulations.
Although a plethora of research has been conducted on the gig economy, much of this research has focused on firms offering an online labor platform, such as Uber or Airbnb, or on a particular subset of the gig economy, such as the sharing economy. Similarly, research on gig workers has typically been limited to specific categories of workers, such as direct sellers or transportation providers. To date there has not been a comprehensive study of gig workers as they define themselves. Indeed, virtually no large-scale research project has been conducted to identify gig workers generally, document their gig-related behaviors, and investigate their demographic characteristics and motivations in a form useful for business managers and public policy officials.
This research lacuna simultaneously reflects an absence of information as well as a surfeit of misinformation regarding gig workers, to the detriment of everyone concerned with the gig economy. The 2023 survey represents the third round of empirical research conducted on the gig economy under the Ultimate Gig Research Project. As such, it updates insights from prior surveys and provides insights into the nature, scope, and growth of the gig economy and the gig workers who participate in it.
About The 2023 Survey
A nationwide sample of 2,019 self-identified gig workers who were members of a large internet consumer panel were surveyed. A random selection of panel members was provided the following description of a gig (“side hustle” or part-time job):
A gig is defined as a flexible work arrangement that allows a person to work how, when, and where he or she wants to work. Even full-time and part‑time employees may sometimes work gigs in their free time.
The Gig Economy is growing exponentially, more than four times faster than the traditional economy.
Potential survey participants then read a list of illustrative gig activities and were asked whether they had worked a gig in the past 12 months. Individuals answering positively were asked how many different gigs they had worked in the past 12 months and then were shown a list of 14 different gig categories (plus an “other” category). Depending on how many gigs they reported working in the past 12 months, survey participants were asked about their only gig or their primary and secondary gigs if they reported working more than one gig. Survey participants resided in 50 states and the District of Colombia. The geographical distribution of survey participants closely followed the distribution of state populations 18 years of age and older. In general, the survey design consisted of standard, accepted, research techniques and procedures. Hence, the results should be valid and reliable within the research parameters.
Because the 2023 survey was cross-sectional in that it documented gig worker characteristics at a single point in time, in the remainder of this report comparisons will be made with results compiled from a similar survey of 1,001gig workers in 2020. As such, the research reported here “bookends” the COVID pandemic. This three-year gap allows inferences as to possible consequences of the pandemic, trends in the gig economy, and insights as to what might constitute the gig economy in the future.
Key Research Findings
The Nature of Gig Work
In 2023, about 40% of gig workers reported working one (and only one) gig in the past 12 months, slightly down from 45% in 2020; 28% reported working two gigs and 32% reported three or more gigs. The latter two percentages slightly increased from 2020 (in 2020, 24% of gig workers reported working two gigs and 31% reported working three or more gigs). One potential implication of this shift is that many gig workers may have less time and effort to spend on a particular gig or allocate across a combination of gigs in 2023 than they did in 2020.
Although there was a tendency of gig workers to work more than one gig in 2023 compared to 2020, significant changes took place in the types of work gig that was pursued. This is illustrated in two distinct ways.
First, certain gig activity concentrations changed from 2020 to 2023. For instance:
- In 2020, the most popular gig was professional services (e.g., accounting, law, consulting); nearly 16% of gig workers reported working in this sector. In 2023, the corresponding percentage was about 6%.
- In 2023, the most popular gig was delivery services (e.g., restaurant meals, groceries, errands), with about 13% of all gig workers participating in this sector. This compares with slightly in excess of 6% participating in the sector in 2020.
- The percentage of gig workers offering home repair or other manual skill-based services increased from almost 7% in 2020 to slightly more than 13% in 2023.
To obtain a more detailed perspective on online platforms in the gig economy, the 2023 survey delved into how gig workers used digital tools.
|# of Gigs Worked||2020||2023|
|3 or more||31%||32%|
Second, individuals working more than one gig were somewhat more likely to work their gigs in the same sector in 2023 than they were in 2020. Thus, for example, ridesharing or transportation service gig workers were more likely to work for both Uber and Lyft in 2023 as compared to working for Uber and having a graphics gig in 2020. Specifically:
- In 2020, 27% of the individuals with more than one gig performed their gigs in the same sector.
- In 2023, 34% of the individuals with more than one gig performed their gigs in the same sector.
In 2020, a plurality of the gig workers surveyed, 41%, reported that they worked their gigs by means of an online platform, whereas a third (34%) worked offline; the remainder worked their gig(s) through an online/offline combination. To obtain a more detailed perspective on online platforms in the gig economy, the 2023 survey delved into how gig workers used digital tools. About one-quarter of the gig workers surveyed did not use any digital tools; about one-sixth used digital tools exclusively, with no interpersonal interactions. The remaining gig workers surveyed used digital tools in conjunction with personal customer and client interactions. Thus, media depictions of gig workers as primarily individuals connected to an online platform are not accurate.
While the absolute number of individuals working a particular gig type or in a specific sector in 2020 may not have changed in 2023, individuals entering the gig economy since 2020 are pursuing different pathways that in turn impact the percentages of gig workers in the sectors. For example, the number of people working a professional gig may not have changed from 2020 to 2023, but because new individuals who entered the gig economy pursued a delivery gig, the percentage of gig workers working professionally declined. These results also suggest that gig workers may be amenable to changing activities or may be variety-seeking.
THE GIG ECONOMY is a channel mechanism for effectively and efficiently linking gig workers and their customers.
- Approximately 3.4% of the gig workers surveyed in 2023 worked in direct selling (i.e., their only gig, primary gig, or secondary gig was direct selling).
Of the survey participants involved in direct selling, about 30% worked only a direct selling gig (i.e., had no other gig); 70% had one or more other gigs. The percentage of gig workers who were direct sellers in 2023 was smaller than the percentage in 2020 (which was about 5.5%). If gig workers constitute a viable pool of potential direct sellers, the current direct selling “labor share” implies that the pool is large (and growing). Further, apart from direct sellers, since approximately 16-17% of all gig workers participated in selling-related gigs in 2023 (e.g., selling products or services they produce themselves or through entities other than through direct selling), it would seem a “selling proclivity” could be leveraged when recruiting direct sellers from existing gig workers.
Gig Work By The Numbers
This table summarizes select survey findings that serve as the basis of the gig economy trends.
|Various types of gigs including professional services, independent contracting (non-transportation)||88%||79%|
|Gig workers working 1 gig||45%||40%|
|Gig workers working multiple gigs||55%||60%|
|Works less than 8 hours per week||62%||59%|
|Expected to earn less than $500 per month||66%||69%|
|Earned less than $500 per month||64%||67%|
|Expected to earn less than $1,000 per month||81%||84%|
|Earned less than $1,000 per month||80%||84%|
|Earned over $2,000 per month||10%||9%|
|Use money to pay household bills||37%||49%|
|Use money to save/invest||31%||21%|
|Less than 10% of household income comes from gig earnings||45%||43%|
Gig Worker Demographics
The changes observed in the percentages of gig workers pursuing different gigs and gig types are related to, or perhaps even driven by, the characteristics of individuals recently entering the gig economy. Simply stated, people entering the gig economy post-COVID differ from their pre-COVID counterparts on certain attributes. For example, whereas about one-quarter of the gig workers surveyed in 2020 performed professional services or free-lance computer work, the corresponding percentage in 2023 was about 12%. This decline in percentages is reflected in household income and educational levels. In 2020, approximately 34% of the gig workers surveyed stated they had an annual household income in excess of $100,000, and 72% stated they possessed a higher education degree. In 2023, approximately 17% of the gig workers surveyed stated that they had an annual household income in excess of $100,000, and 42% stated they possessed a higher education degree. Similarly, the demographic composition of the gig worker force changed in other ways. Consider the following comparisons:
- In 2020, 72% of gig workers were white/ Caucasian. In 2023, the figure was 66%.
- In 2020, 14% of the gig workers surveyed reporting residing in a rural area. By 2023 that percentage had increased to 21%.
- In 2020, 69% of the gig workers surveyed owned their own homes. By 2023, that percentage had declined to 51%.
- In 2020, 54% of the gig workers survey said they were married. In 2023 that percentage had shrunk to 41%.
Even so, certain demographic characteristics remained fairly constant between 2020 and 2023. For example, the age distributions of gig workers in 2020 and 2023 were nearly identical, and the percentages of household income contributed by gig work in the two years were very similar.
Comparisons of male and female gig workers surveyed in 2023 revealed that 37% of males had only one gig whereas 44% of females had only one gig. The most frequently reported gig for males was home repairs (18%), whereas the most frequently reported gig for females was selling products or services they made themselves (17%). Gig income was less than 10% of household income for 38% of the male survey participants, whereas it was less than 10% for 49% of female survey participants. In brief, viewed across a variety of characteristics, it appears that the motivations and behaviors of male and female gig workers are somewhat different.
Perhaps the most persistent topic of interest in the gig economy is gig earnings. How much do individuals expect to earn from their gig, and how much do they earn? How much time do gig workers spend on their gigs? How do gig workers use their earnings, and how are they paid? Interestingly enough, and (i) commensurate with the notion of a (part-time) gig and (ii) contrary to what the mass media disseminate, individuals enter into gigs with realistic expectations and aspirations. Consider the following:
- On average, slightly less than one-quarter of the gig workers surveyed in 2023, 23%, expected to earn less than $100 per month when starting their gig. This percentage has not changed from 2020. Another quarter expected to earn between $100 and $299 per month when they started their gig. Hence, approximately half of the gig workers surveyed expected to earn less than $300 per month when starting their gig. Fewer than 3% of the gig workers surveyed in 2023 expected to earn $4,000 or more per month when they started their gig.
- These numbers are in contrast to what gig workers reported earning. In particular, about 44% of gig workers reported earning less than $300 per month, which suggests gig workers in general actually earn slightly more per month than they expected to when starting their gigs. More to the point, approximately 80% of the gig workers expecting to earn less than $100 per month actually earn about what they expected to when starting their gig. On average, about two-thirds of the gig workers surveyed earn about what they expected to earn when starting their gig.
- About 45% of the gig workers surveyed in 2020 indicated that gig work contributed less than 10% of their annual household income, while a similar 43% of the gig workers surveyed in 2023 indicated that less than 10% of their annual household income came from gig work.
- About one-third of the gig workers surveyed typically work 4 to 8 hours per week on their only or primary gig, and this time allocation has not changed from 2020. Gig workers with more than one gig tend to spend more time on their primary gig than gig workers with only one gig, but less time on their additional gig(s) than they do on their primary gig, as would be expected.
- Moreover, as would also be expected, the primary reason people took on their gig was that they “needed more money.” Forty-five percent of the gig workers surveyed in 2023 said this is why they pursued their gig. Other reasons for taking on a gig included:
- Enjoy the work (18%)
- Had available time to work (9%)
- Allowed greater flexibility (9%)
- Permitted diversifying income stream (7%)
- Exploring different interests (7%)
- When asked, “How do you primarily use the money you earn from your gig?”, 49% of the gig workers surveyed in 2023 stated that they used their gig earnings to pay household bills. This percentage is a significant increase from 2020, when 37% of the gig workers surveyed stated that they used their gig earnings to pay household bills. At the same time, whereas 31% of the gig workers surveyed in 2020 reported saving or investing their gig earnings, the corresponding percentage in 2023 was 20%. This shift in allocation from savings/investing to bill paying appears to be reflected in the gigs worked in the different years and differences in gig worker characteristics. Other uses of gig earnings (e.g., improving personal lifestyles, supporting children, etc.) were fairly consistent across gigs worked and time.
- Two particularly interesting survey participant characteristics were related to household bill paying. Female gig workers surveyed were slightly more likely to use their gig earnings to pay household bills than were male gig workers surveyed. Survey participants 35-54 years of age were significantly more likely to use their gig earnings to pay household bills than were other survey participants.
- In line with the nature of gig work, about 40% of the gig workers surveyed in 2023 were paid immediately upon finishing their gig. An additional 12% were paid every day. The most frequent form of payment was cash or check. Thirty-nine percent of the surveyed gig workers were paid this way; an additional 34% were paid by direct bank deposit, and 24% were paid through a mobile wallet, cash app, or the like. Forty-six percent of gig workers with only one gig were paid directly by their customers or clients. This percentage increases slightly to 52% for gig workers with two or more gigs. Eleven percent of the gig workers surveyed in 2023 were paid through a third-party payment provider.
- The importance of immediate pay for performance was endorsed by the gig workers surveyed. Eighty‑three percent of the gig workers surveyed in 2023 stated that being paid immediately was “very important” (52%) or “somewhat important” (31%) as a criterion when seeking out a new or additional gig. Being paid immediately for performance was more important for female gig workers than for male gig workers, gig workers who were not married (as compared to those who were married), gig workers who had more than one gig, and gig workers 35-54 years of age (compared to other gig workers).
Importance of Immediate Pay
We asked the following question in the 2023 survey: “Assume that you are looking for a new, additional gig. How important is being paid immediately for performance?” These tables capture the responses.
|Total Sample Response||% Response|
|Not at all important||2%|
|Subgroups Response to “Very Important”|
|18-34 years old||52%|
|35-54 years old||59%|
|55+ years old||41%|
|Number of gigs|
|More than one||58%|
The research presented in this report illustrates the nuances and trends that exist in the gig economy in the United States. The gig economy is growing exponentially, more than four times faster than the traditional economy, and the number of individuals that engage in gig work is likewise increasing every day. As the research reported here documents, the structure of the gig workforce is evolving rapidly to accommodate new work opportunities and the desire for flexibility and freedom. No doubt driven in part by the global pandemic, the changes occurring in the gig economy and gig workforce require creative forward thinking for firms to remain competitive. It is imperative that firms understand and appreciate the heterogeneity that exists among gigs and gig workers, and how that heterogeneity can be embraced and leveraged for success.
THE GIG ECONOMY is growing exponentially, more than four times faster than the traditional economy.
About The Researchers
Robert A. Peterson, Ph.D., is a professor and holds the John T. Stuart Chair in Business Administration at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Peterson led the first two rounds of research to support the Ultimate Gig Research Project, which was partially supported by Amway, Jenkon, and other entities. Dr. Peterson has been observing and researching direct selling for more than 30 years. In 1991, he received the Circle of Honor Award from the Direct Selling Education Foundation.
John T. Fleming is the author of Ultimate Gig: Flexibility, Freedom & Rewards, which was published by Emerald Publishing and a recipient of PROSE recognition from American Publishers Association. John is principal of Ideas and Design Group, LLC, and has received both the Direct Selling Association Hall of Fame and Direct Selling Education Foundation Circle of Honor recognitions.