The McKinsey Global Institute examines all the ways people are earning income, as well as the challenges independent work presents.
Working nine to five for a single employer bears little resemblance to the way a substantial share of the workforce makes a living today.
Millions of people assemble various income streams and work independently, rather than in structured payroll jobs. This is hardly a new phenomenon, yet it has never been well measured in official statistics—and the resulting data gaps prevent a clear view of a large share of labor-market activity.
To better understand the independent workforce and what motivates the people who participate in it, the McKinsey Global Institute surveyed some 8,000 respondents across Europe and the United States.
We asked about their income in the past 12 months—encompassing primary work, as well as any other income-generating activities—and about their professional satisfaction and aspirations for work in the future.
The resulting report, Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy, finds that up to 162 million people in Europe and the United States—or 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population—engage in some form of independent work.
While demographically diverse, independent workers largely fit into four segments (exhibit): free agents, who actively choose independent work and derive their primary income from it; casual earners, who use independent work for supplemental income and do so by choice; reluctants, who make their primary living from independent work but would prefer traditional jobs; and the financially strapped, who do supplemental independent work out of necessity.