Aug 26, 2021 - Economy

The rise of women in the gig economy

Illustration of woman holding a laptop while walking on tightrope.

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Women have been joining the gig workforce at a rapid clip during the pandemic.

Why it matters: Gigs offer the flexibility that so many working women seek, but the jobs can come with low, unstable wages.

What's happening: Women have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic — both because they were overrepresented in hard-hit industries like hospitality and service, and because they were likelier than men to leave jobs to care for children.

  • Many who lost or left their jobs turned to gig work for income.

The big picture: Women now represent 46% of the independent contracting workforce, up from 33% in May 2017, per the American Action Forum. Women have long dominated the gig workforces in areas like caregiving and home cleaning, but their rise in the delivery economy is more recent.

By the numbers:

  • The number of women working for Uber's ride-share or delivery platforms has increased around 50% since January 2021, Uber says.
    • Women now make up just under half of the delivery people on Uber Eats.
  • DoorDash's delivery workforce is 58% women. "There’s been an uptick in the last year," says Elizabeth Jarvis-Shean, VP of communications and policy at DoorDash. "What we’re offering is the kinds of earning opportunity that women in particular have needed during this pandemic."

There are lots of reasons why women are turning to app-based gig work, but flexibility tops the list.

  • 80% of women on DoorDash said flexibility was the main reason they did the job. And 60% said the flexibility allowed them to care for a child or loved one, compared with just 30% of men.
  • 50% of women delivering for UberEats said that working for ride-sharing or delivery platforms provided them the flexibility they couldn't get from a traditional job, compared with 34% of men.
  • Women also tend to prefer delivery work to ride-sharing work because it can be safer, and so the pandemic-era explosion of delivery has brought more women to the gig economy. "I don't want strangers in my car," says Katy Nolan, who drives for DoorDash in Seattle.

Danielle Hayden, a single mother of two, delivers for DoorDash as a second job to make extra money. When the pandemic struck and she was furloughed from her main job in hospitality, she picked up extra shifts and loved the flexibility.

  • "I can do it when I want, and I can take a break when I want and as long as I want," she says. Hayden has even brought her kids along so she can care for them and work at the same time.

But, but, but: "What gig work often does is reflect what's wrong in the broader labor market," says Shelly Steward, director of the Future of Work initiative at the Aspen Institute. "And many women right now are struggling."

  • Millions of women — especially working mothers — are looking for jobs that allow them to juggle responsibilities but find too often that flexibility is only available to high-earners in office jobs.
  • For everyone else, "sometimes the only option is to turn on an app," Steward says. "It's filling a need in the labor market."
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