The Gig Economy: Being Your Own Boss Comes at a Steep Price

The gig or “sharing” economy promises to bring entrepreneurialism to the masses. Why not sign up for a company like Airbnb, Uber, or TaskRabbit and enjoy the rewards of being your own boss, while facing few of the risks?

But would-be hoteliers, drivers, and personal assistants, respectively, often find that the lack of structure and protections in the shared economy leaves them feeling vulnerable, rather than empowered. In fact, rather than taking pride in their entrepreneurship, many of these workers are simply trying to earn money.

Sharing Economy Workers: Selling, Not Sharing,” a study by Graduate Center Ph.D. student Alexandrea J. Ravenelle published in the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, gives an inside look at the difficulties and challenges faced by workers in the gig economy.

Ravenelle drew her data from 78 in-depth qualitative interviews with 23 Airbnb hosts, 22 TaskRabbit workers, 19 Kitchensurfing chefs, and 14 Uber drivers/messengers — giving a close look at not only the types of workers who participate in the gig economy, but the businesses themselves, which range from successful companies worth billions of dollars to short-lived upstarts.

“The more I looked into the sharing economy, the more I realized there was exploitation,” Ravenelle said in an interview. “You find workers in questionable situations, and who feel like they don’t have choices, or that their choices are very limited.”

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
Sharing economy workers: selling, not sharing
Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 2017

Work By
Alexandrea J. Ravenelle (Ph.D. ’18, Sociology)

Colleges and Schools
The Graduate Center

Bonus Content
The Gig is Up (GC News)

Related Terms