Who Are Today’s Freelancers?

If you still think of freelancers as people who occasionally take on work assignments, you’re out of step with today’s employment marketplace. Freelance employment is on the increase, and freelancers now represent a significant percentage of the workforce.

Research from freelancing website Upwork, in collaboration with the Freelancers Union, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of independent workers, finds the number of freelancers increased by 2 million in just two years—from 53 million workers in 2014 to 55 million in 2016. Freelancers now account for 35 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Freelance Population

Like the general employee population, these workers have diverse backgrounds.
A recent survey of more than 1,300 freelancers, conducted by job site FlexJobs provides insight.

Demographics of Freelancers

  • Freelancers span generations: Gen Z (1 percent), Millennial/Gen Y (24 percent), Gen X (40 percent), Baby Boomer (30 percent), and the Silent Generation (5 percent)
  • Highest level of school attained: high school degree or equivalent (3 percent), college but no degree (14 percent), associate degree (8 percent), a college degree (44 percent), and graduate degree (30 percent)
  • Current career level: entry-level (11 percent), experienced (54 percent), manager (18 percent), and senior level manager (17 percent)
  • Half of the freelancers in the survey have children, while half are not parents

Diverse Groups Benefit from Freelancing

  • Freelancers are twice as likely (42 percent) to identify as entrepreneurs as the respondents interested in all forms of flexible work
  • One-fifth of freelancers are digital nomads
  • Nearly one-third (28 percent) say they are introverts, 14 percent live in a rural area, and 12 percent are managing a chronic illness

How Many Gigs Do Freelancers Have at Once?

  • 38 percent report having one gig at a time
  • 51 percent juggle two to three gigs at a time
  • 8 percent have four to five gigs at a time
  • 3 percent have more than six gigs at a time

Why They Freelance

  • Work-life balance (80 percent), time savings (52 percent), and commute stress (50 percent) are the top reasons freelancers seek flexible work
  • Freelancers rank flexible schedule (74 percent) and work-life balance (72 percent) as the most important factors when evaluating a job prospect, ahead of salary (69 percent)
  • 43 percent have left a job because it did not offer work flexibility
  • 35 percent of freelancers have had round-trip commutes of more than two hours
  • 98 percent of freelancers are interested in flexible work for their long-term career plans
  • Only 3 percent of freelancers worry a lot that a flexible work arrangement will hurt their career progression

The Enjoyment Factor

It’s worth noting that freelancers appear to enjoy work more than their non-freelance counterparts.
Seventy-seven percent of freelancers responding to the FlexJobs survey say they work because they enjoy it, citing their enjoyment as a primary reason why they want and/or need to work, second only to paying for basic necessities. This compares with 54 percent of non-freelancers, responding to an earlier FlexJobs survey; non-freelancers rank enjoyment as their fifth reason to work.
“Hearing that freelancers enjoy work on average more than their non-freelance counterparts is not that surprising,” said Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs. “There are many benefits to freelance work, including more autonomy over where, when, and how you can get your job done, as well as the ability to choose which projects they take on which can provide more control over the diversity of their projects and their overall workload. Freelance work can be empowering and provide more work flexibility—and better work-life balance—than many traditional arrangements.”

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