SOTA Review

Forms of self-employment: What do we know about the gig economy?

ERC SOTA Review No 43

Associated Themes
  • Entrepreneurship

Self-employment takes a range of forms spanning business ownership, dependent contracting activity and freelancing. The term ‘gig economy’ is used increasingly to describe a range of freelancing activity in sectors such as construction, IT, transport services, and culture and media. Although definitions vary, there is general agreement that the growth in gig-working has been encouraged by the development of internet platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo, and the opportunity to adopt business models which support workforce ‘flexibilization’. The small body of research on ‘dependent’ self-employment over a longer period provides useful insights. However, research on the drivers and impacts of gig-working specifically is sparse, and at present provides little insight beyond describing the size and recent growth of the gig economy. A number of important evidence gaps remain. These include measurement of the sector and assessment of the strength of particular drivers. They also include the impact of employment regulation on the trade-off between the benefits of autonomy and flexibility and the costs of poor earnings and security. Finally further evidence is needed on the question of whether gig-working reflects economic opportunity or is a form of necessity entrepreneurship that crowds out well-performing business start-up.