Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Men make 48% more than women in some sectors of the gig economy, study shows

Freelance worker. Women working in the fast-growing gig economy are being paid far less than men.

Women working in the fast-growing gig economy are being paid far less than men. Image: Unsplash/Brooke Cagle

Simon Read
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  • The gender pay gap is far worse for women who freelance than for those in full-time employment, a US study shows.
  • Men working in some sectors of the gig economy charge an average of 48% more than women.
  • Accounting and consulting is the sector with the widest pay gap for freelancers.
  • Unequal pay contributes to gender disparities which will take 132 years to address at the current rate of progress, says World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report report.

Women working in the fast-growing gig economy are being paid far less than men, according to a study of freelance workers in the US.

The study’s authors say self-employed women face a gender pay gap nearly three times wider than those in full-time jobs. That’s despite the painfully slow progress many companies have made to tackle salary discrepancies.

The research from ZenBusiness suggests male freelancers charge 48% more than women, on average, for equivalent work.

The worst gender pay gap

ZenBusiness analyzed specialities, job categories and hourly rates for 6,000 freelancers who had billed for at least 100 hours of work on the freelancing website Upwork.

They found men charged an average of $22.28 per hour more than women.

Chart showing gender gap in Admin, IT and customer services in the gig economy
The gender pay gap in the US has been found to be worse in the gig economy. Image: ZenBusiness

The job with the worst gender pay gap was dev-ops engineers, who work on software development and IT. Here, the men charge £100.90 per hour, more than three times as much as women doing similar work.

The sector with the widest gap is accounting and consulting, where men earn on average 33% more an hour, although some jobs bucked the trend. Women HR administrators and instructional designers get more than men, but the difference is small: just $3.26 and $6.44 per hour in each case.

Chart showing gender gap in accountancy and consulting rates in the gig economy.
The sector with the widest pay gap in the gig economy is accounting and consulting. Image: ZenBusiness

Self-employed women and men are paid more equally in the creative industries, and for writing and translating. But even in this sector, there are disparities: male business writers were able to charge an average of $23.62 more per hour than women working on similar content.

Rafael Espinal, executive director of the Freelancers Union, told Bloomberg: “It’s deeply troubling that women working independently experience such stark wage disparities.”

More switch to the gig economy

Those injustices are likely to affect more women because the gig economy is surging: Mastercard forecasts the sector’s global value will reach $455 billion by 2023, and some predict half the workforce in the US will be freelancers by 2027.

Many will be women hoping a switch to freelance work will remove barriers they face as company employees. A survey by accounting and invoicing software firm FreshBooks found that 70% of women considering self-employment were doing so to escape workplace discrimination and corporate glass ceilings.

That study – which also looked at US workers – found women were attracted to the flexibility freelancing promised – with 84% of respondents saying self-employment makes it easier to be a working mother. But a fifth of respondents said they had to bill less than their male counterparts to get and keep clients.

Even so, women need to set higher targets in pay negotiations, Ruchi Sinha, associate professor at the University of South Australia’s Centre for Workplace Excellence told the Sydney Morning Herald: “Go in knowing your value and don’t let others undermine you.”

A “catastrophe” for the future of our economies

Unequal pay contributes to wider gender disparities around the world that are a long way from being adequately addressed. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022 analyzes a range of equality measures and estimates at the current rate of improvement it will take a staggering 132 years to reach full parity.

The Forum’s Managing Director Saadia Zahidi says: “… this halt in progress towards parity is a catastrophe for the future of our economies, societies and communities. Accelerating parity must be a core part of the public and private agenda”.


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Equity, Diversity and InclusionJobs and the Future of Work
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