Fact of the Week: Online Freelance Labor Platforms Have Registered an Estimated 163 Million Profiles Worldwide

Kevin Gawora April 19, 2021
April 19, 2021

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Source: Otto Kassi, Vii Lehdonvirta, and Fabian Stephany, “How Many Online Workers are there in the World? A Data-Driven Assessment,” ETLA Economic Research, Oxford Internet Institute and Alan Turing Institute, March, 2021.

Commentary: In the last decade, there has been an explosion of online freelance work, otherwise known as online outsourcing, crowdwork, or gig platform work. Although this allows workers to serve multiple clients simultaneously instead of working for a single employer, there are few solid estimates of the size and scope of the freelancing economy. This is because online work is often supplementary income, and earnings are small, so the work is not captured by labor surveys or tax data. Three economists measured the total number of online freelance workers by gathering data from Google searches of online freelancing platforms plus the crowd-sourced company information platform Crunchbase. They focused on fully digital work estimated the total number of profiles 163 million. Of these, they found that, on average, only 5 percent of registered users have ever worked, and only 4 percent have worked in the past 30 days, indicating that for a large majority, online freelance work is merely an additional source of supplemental income. Furthermore, after adjusting for double-counting, only 2.3 million out of the 163 million estimated workers have earned more than $1,000. Although online freelance work will certainly keep growing in the years ahead, policymakers and businesses should see it as temporary work for small projects, rather than a new source of sustainable, long-term job creation.