How inconsistencies in questions, terms, and definitions are preventing a comprehensive understanding of what gig work is, who gig workers are, and what they need.
Last year, The Workers Lab and the Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative launched the Gig Worker Learning Project to clarify what we know about gig work and workers, directly from gig workers themselves. Please note before reading more! We are using the term “gig” as a starting point to engage with existing research on work today. The project intends to revise language as workers are directly engaged and tell us what they think.
Before jumping into new, worker-centered research with gig workers, we thought it prudent to assemble and analyze the current research about gig work to fully understand where there are gaps, consensus, disagreement, and key opportunities to learn more. Since the project launched, we’ve convened dozens of worker leaders and researchers to learn from their experiences, and we’ve analyzed more than 75 recent studies about gig work and workers.
We’re excited to publicly release a report of our initial findings and recommendations for how worker leaders and researchers can start to bring clarity and consistency to future research and develop a complete picture of gig workers’ experiences and needs.
In the report, we compare findings from a variety of recent studies about gig workers to demonstrate the significant lack of common language that leads to apples-to-oranges comparisons and misunderstandings that keep us from meeting gig workers’ needs.
The report examines existing research related to several questions, including:
- What is the “Gig Economy”?
- What are gig workers doing to make money?
- Who are gig workers?
- How do digital platforms affect the experiences of gig workers?
- How are gig workers using their incomes?
- What kinds of benefits and protections exist for gig workers?
A few of our topline findings include:
- Different researchers use the same term with different meanings.
- Some researchers don’t define the terms they use at all.
- Differences in definitions or phrasing of questions can lead to contradictory findings.
We’re now building from the findings in this report by undertaking a series of participatory open-listening and direct conversations with gig workers. In this qualitative research, we will dig deeper into several questions that are not being asked widely of gig workers. These include questions about:
- Motivations into gig work;
- Challenges faced in gig work;
- Ways gig workers deal with those challenges;
- What would make those challenges easier;
- And how those solutions would impact gig workers personally, their families, and their work.
This qualitative research will feed into a large-scale national survey and an ongoing toolkit for organizations and researchers to use - all informed by the dozens of researchers and worker leaders that continue to contribute to this project.