Published on Jobs and Development

What we’re reading about how the online gig economy is transforming work

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smiling asian business woman checking internet application on mobile smartphone Gig work is creating new opportunities for youth, women, and vulnerable populations to learn new skills and earn supplemental income. Copyright: Shutterstock

Over the past decade, technology has fundamentally shifted traditional work patterns, creating new ways in which work is contracted, performed, managed, scheduled, and paid. New business models, such as digital platform firms, can foster job creation and bring economic opportunities to millions of people who do not live in industrial areas. Digital platforms are mediating new forms of work, known as online gig jobs, which match workers and clients for tasks that are performed fully online. 

The recent World Bank report, “Working Without Borders: The Promise and Peril of Online Gig Work,” employs an innovative mix of data science methods, website traffic data, and surveys across 17 countries conducted in 12 languages. The study examines the size, scale, and patterns of online gig work in developing countries and provides recommendations for practitioners to design policies and operations to harness the potential of online gig work.

According to the report, online gig work is gaining prominence in the job market. Currently, it accounts for up 12% of the global labor force, with over 400 million workers. This new form of work has brought opportunities, especially for youth, women, and vulnerable populations to learn new skills and earn supplemental income especially during periods of shock.

The report finds that a majority of online gig workers are under 30 years old, drawn to gig work for income generation, skill acquisition, or the flexibility to combine it with education or other forms of employment. Moreover, online gig work contributes to closing the gender gap, as women in most regions participate more actively in the online gig economy compared to the general labor market, the services sector, or the informal sector. Women especially value the flexibility of online gig work to help overcome constraints in accessing the traditional labor market.

Remarkably, nearly three-quarters of these platforms operate at the regional or local level. They perform a crucial, albeit less recognized, role in local labor markets by lowering entry barriers and promoting local private sector development while enhancing inclusion, especially in non-English speaking countries. Surprisingly, six out of 10 online gig workers reside in smaller towns and villages rather than major urban centers, highlighting an opportunity for policymakers to address regional job disparities in areas that often lack sufficient local employment.

However, these new opportunities also usher in policy challenges. Despite the promise of online gig work, a large majority of workers lack comprehensive social protection. Governments can respond by exploring innovative partnership models with online gig platforms to enhance the visibility of informal workers and extending social protection coverage to encompass all workers, including those engaged in gig work. Novel models of collective bargaining are needed to support workers engaged in nonstandard forms of work, and digital technology may help provide innovative solutions.

Featured studies

Essential readings

Broader jobs agenda

This blog is based on the September 2023 edition of the Knowledge4Jobs newsletter, curated by the World Bank’s Jobs Group and Labor and Skills Global Solutions Group. Click here to sign up for the Knowledge4Jobs newsletter.


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Namita Datta

Program Manager, Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE)

Carla Agustina Froy

Consultant, Education Global Practice & Communications Lead, Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE)

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