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The Future of Work: Choice, Satisfaction and Need in the Gig Economy

Freelancing has undergone a significant transformation in recent decades. Rather than sticking to traditional full-time employment with a single employer, a substantial portion of today's workforce earns a living differently. Millions of people combine various sources of income and work independently, rather than having structured payroll jobs. Although this phenomenon is not new, its precise measurement in official statistics has been a challenge, preventing a clear view of a large part of work activity.

To better understand the independent workforce and the motivations that drive those who participate in it, the McKinsey Global Institute surveyed approximately 8,000 people in Europe and the United States. We ask them about their income in the last 12 months, including their main job and any other income-generating activities. We also inquire about their professional satisfaction and future job aspirations. The resulting report, titled “Freelance Work: Choice, Necessity and the Gig Economy,” reveals that up to 162 million people in Europe and the United States, equivalent to 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population, participating in some form of independent work.

Although independent workers are demographically diverse, they mostly fall into four segments (see chart):

Free Agents: Those who actively choose self-employment and derive their main source of income from this activity.

Casual wage earners: People who use self-employment for supplementary income and do so by choice.

Reluctant: Those who obtain their main livelihood from self-employment, but would prefer traditional jobs.

With financial problems: Those who do supplementary independent work out of necessity.

A key finding is that those who choose to work independently (free agents and casual employees) report greater satisfaction with their work life than those who do it out of necessity (reluctant and financially challenged). This trend remains constant across countries, age groups, income levels, and education levels. Free agents, in particular, express higher levels of satisfaction in multiple aspects of their work lives compared to those who choose traditional jobs, suggesting that many people value the non-monetary aspects of working on their own terms.

Freelancing is evolving rapidly thanks to digital platforms, which create efficient, large-scale marketplaces and facilitate direct, even real-time connections between customers who need a service and workers willing to provide it. Although only 15 percent of freelancers surveyed have used a digital platform to find work, the so-called on-demand economy is growing rapidly.

"In addition, other forces could drive the growth of the independent workforce, such as the stated aspirations of traditional workers who want to become independent, the large unemployed and inactive populations who want to work, and the growing demand for independent services from both consumers .as of the organizations"



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