The Two Worlds of the Gig Economy

Older, skilled professionals versus younger, less educated temp workers

Stowe Boyd
Feb 5 · 2 min read
Photo by Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash

A recently released ADP Research Institute study, Illuminating the Shadow Workforce: Insights into the Gig Workforce in Businesses, includes a wide variety of findings in the growing gig economy. For example, did you know that one in six enterprise workers are actually gig workers?

But the biggest takeaway for me is the structural reality of the gig economy in business:

The ADP Research Institute identified two worlds of gig workers in organizations. The first is comprised of 1099-M contractors who are independent contractors, often hired for their skillset on a project basis. These skilled, tenured workers tend to be older, highly educated and choose to work on what they enjoy. In fact, 30% of 1099-M gig workers are aged 55 or older. For some, their gig work is supplemental income to their retirement savings. The second includes short-term W-2 employees who are younger, less educated, have a lower income, and are typically working on a seasonal or on-call hire basis.

“It is clear there is a fundamental shift in the workforce as innovation continues to transform work, increasing the demand for skilled workers,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “To bridge the talent gap in today’s tight labor market, many companies are hiring skilled workers at a premium. Our research shows that companies are turning to tenured, skilled workers and retirees on a gig-basis to meet this growing demand.”

This split is one of style, not underlying intentions: the older professionals and younger freelancers share a common desire to remain gigging, in general, and are not looking for full-time work, despite having to pay for their own health insurance and lacking other employer-paid benefits. This runs counter to many people’s preconceptions, I bet.

I was a bit surprised that the younger tranche of gig workers would choose freelancing, but in a world where employers aren’t particularly loyal, maybe it makes more sense to operate as an independent.

Work Futures

Stowe Boyd

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Work Futures

Exploring critical themes of the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future

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