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publicationSeptember 7, 2023

Working Without Borders: The Promise and Peril of Online Gig Work

This report delves into a new and rapidly increasing form of work enabled by digital platforms - online gig work. Using an innovative mix of data science methods, website traffic data, and surveys across 17 countries, the study examines the size, scale, and patterns of this emerging form of work, especially in developing countries. The report also highlights how policymakers must balance technology enabled work with worker protection.

Online gig work poses both opportunities and challenges for governments and workers. On the upside, it offers prospects for income generation, especially in developing countries, where most people work in low-productivity, low-quality, often informal jobs. The virtual and often temporary nature of gig work also provides flexibility for often neglected groups such as women, youth, migrants, and people with disabilities. These jobs could be a stepping-stone to bet­ter-quality jobs for low-skilled workers by helping them learn critical digital skills and close the digital divide.

But most gig jobs offer little to no protection for workers, with uncertain income streams and no clear career pathways. Depending on local labor regulations, many gig workers are not protected against unfair practices, abuse or injuries while working. Gig work also raises challenges for managing data security and privacy.  

The report examines how countries can navigate the promise and perils of online gig work. It reveals that the online gig workforce is much larger than previously assumed with an estimated 154 million to 435 million Online gig workers around the globe. For the first time ever, the report mapped and tracked regional platforms and gig workers who work in languages other than English.

Key Messages

  • Online gig work is expanding, accounting for up to 12% of the global labor force and is a growing source of income for millions.
  • Demand for online gig workers is rising faster in developing countries than in industrialized countries.       
  • Local gig platforms play a vital role in the local labor market, but they face challenges in establishing a viable business model, and opportunities for long-term growth.
  • Online gig work can support inclusion by providing work opportunities for youth, women, and low-skilled workers.
  • Gig workers, like most other informal sector workers in developing countries, are often outside the purview of labor regulations.
  • The gig economy can offer opportunities locally to build digital skills, increase income-earning opportunities, and facilitate social protection coverage of informal workers. 

Last Updated: Feb 02, 2024