2021 Vol. 15 No 1 FORESIGHT AND STI GOVERNANCE 19
e Spread of Gig Economy: Trends and Eects
The development of online communication platforms
has given rise to the phenomenon of the gig econo-
my. A new economic model that embraces a variety
of forms of short-term employment is rapidly spreading
around the world, becoming an everyday reality and trans-
forming the labor market. e article analyzes the factors
inuencing the dynamics of this process and its main eects.
Testing the main hypothesis showed that the development
of technological infrastructure, despite its importance, does
not fully explain the unevenness of the penetration of the
gig economy and the variations in its impact upon dierent
sectors, professions, and skill levels.
Gig economy drivers are subject to further study,
but already now we can state the need for targeted mea-
sures to adapt the economy to the new model, including
retraining or creating alternative employment opportuni-
ties for “traditional” workers giving up jobs in favor of gig-
Keywords: gig economy; technology index; income distribution;
digital platforms; labor markets; corporate strategies
Citation: Banik N., Padalkar М. (2021) e Spread of Gig
Economy: Trends and Eects. Foresight and STI Governance,
15(1), 28–38. DOI: 10.17323/2500-2597.2021.1.19.29
Bennett University, Plot Nos 8-11, TechZone II, Greater Noida 201310,Uttar Pradesh, India
20 FORESIGHT AND STI GOVERNANCE Vol. 15 No 1 2021
1 e Cambridge dictionary denes ‘gig’ as ‘a single performance by a musician or a group of musicians’. See: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/
english/gig; accessed on 23 July 2020.
2 Named by the title of the 1099-MISC tax form, which any American company is required to issue for a freelance employee whose income exceeds
Following the 2008 global nancial crisis and the
resultant unemployment, many professionals
and skilled workers began performing short-
term jobs to earn their livelihood. is phenomenon
was described as the ‘gig economy’, a metaphor drawn
from the music industry where artists performed gigs.1
e spread of gig work was initially driven by skilled IT
professionals who began using online digital platforms
to search for such opportunities. Gig work is emerging
as a livelihood option for job seeking students, retirees,
low- and high-skilled workers. Working with US em-
ployment data, Collins et al. [Collins et al., 2019] nd
virtually all expansion of the gig workforce since 2011
has come from online platform work. e expansion
of the gig phenomenon has attracted the interest of
researchers. Dierent descriptions have been oered
towards a clearer understanding of this phenomenon.
ere are various denitions that do not always coin-
cide with practical approaches when it comes to the
gig economy. Scholars also note the denitional di-
culties associated with the platform economy – a term
which is close to gig economy [Frenken, Schor, 2019].
Based on the existing literature, we draw upon the ma-
jor characteristics of the gig economy, comment on
its implications for labor productivity, employment
growth, income distribution, and corporate strategies.
en, we discuss the legal implications of the rise of the
gig economy in India. Also, we examine the hypothesis
that Information and Communications Technology
(ICT) infrastructure plays a positive role in the spread
of gig work by constructing a Technology Index (TI)
encompassing mobile, internet, broadband connectiv-
ity, and electricity connections. Finally, based on our
results we conclude with some policy recommenda-
e report by the World Bank [World Bank, 2015]
categorizes the gig economy into three types of out-
sourcing activities such as Microwork, Freelancing,
and Business Process Outsourcing. Meanwhile, draw-
ing from the empiricist tradition the term ‘gig econ-
omy’ exhibits a few other characteristics. First is that
gig work tends to be on-demand and short-term [Berg,
2016; Van Doorn, 2017]. It is priced by pre-dened
outcomes and depending upon how much one earns,
gig work is also referred to as the 1099 economy2
[Kalleberg, Dunn, 2016].
ere are no clear denitions for “short term” and
“short-term contract”. Gig workers may work for one
year or more, under serially renewed xed-term con-
tracts, and yet fall under the classication of short-
term contracts [Connelly, Gallagher, 2006].
A characteristic feature of the gig economy is that it
is platform-enabled [Kenney, Zysman, 2016]. e gig
economy uses technology platforms as conduits to
connect the workers to the hirers, and the owners of
assets to the customers. e rst category is the trans-
action happening using a labor platform and the sec-
ond is the transaction happening through a capital
platform [Farrell, Greig, 2016].
Examples of labor market platforms are Uber, Task
Rabbit, Swiggy, Zomato, among others. As the work
is job-specic, workers using these platforms have
the exibility to work for more than one contractor.
A food delivery person can work for both Swiggy and
Zomato, and yet can drive Uber during some other
time. Similarly, the aggregators may provide more than
one type of service. For example, Uber which is gener-
ally known as a taxi service aggregator also has Uber
Eats which is a food delivery and online take-out ser-
vice app. e examples for capital market platforms are
service providers such as Airbnb, which serves house
owners in renting out temporally free living space.
Similar is the case with car rental service platforms
such as Zipcar and Hertz.
e next characteristic is about scalability and the ab-
sence of entry barriers. e platform-enabled gig econ-
omy can accommodate a large number of buyers and
sellers. e cost of entering a platform-enabled market
is minimal. According to [Drahokoupil, Fabo, 2016],
digital platforms have lowered the transaction cost of
labor outsourcing and temporary access to goods and
services. e gig economy has helped to reduce infor-
mation asymmetry associated with job search costs
[Zhao, 1999]. In India, for example, before the advent
of the digital world, job seekers regularly waited in line
‒ sometimes all day ‒ to register at national employ-
ment exchanges for their job search. At present, digital
platforms allow the job seekers to conduct most of the
search and inquiry processes online. Finally, the gig
economy usually operates on the basis of ‘standardized’
outcomes. As the job performed isoutcome-based, the
risks associated with moral hazard or asymmetric in-
formation are mitigated. For instance, in the case of a
long-term contract, persons once hired cannot be red
without serving a notice period or trade unions agree-
ing to such a decision. e onus of risk associated with
employee’s output falls upon the employers. In the gig
economy driven by task-based jobs, problems associat-
ed with information asymmetry and/or moral hazard
generally do not arise. e rating systems on platforms
for task-based services also ensure that only the most
standardized and ecient suppliers get rewarded in
Given these aforementioned characteristics and based
on the work arrangement that the gig economy has
to oer, it is spreading fast. According to US Bureau
2021 Vol. 15 No 1 FORESIGHT AND STI GOVERNANCE 21
Banik N., Padalkar М., pp. 19–29
of Labor Statistics, there are 1.6 million gig economy
workers working for services such as Uber, TaskRabbit,
and others.3 Worldwide, major demand for gig work
arises from Information Technology (IT), IT-enabled
services, e-commerce, retail, hospitality, and the fast-
moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector, wherein sud-
den and short-duration workers at the lateral levels
are very much in demand [AfDB et al., 2018]. During
2015, some of the in-demand jobs dealt with internet
marketing, blogs, and e-commerce jobs. ere were
about 26,000 open jobs paying hourly rates between
$16 and $22 on average [World Bank, 2015]. e digi-
tal platforms are creating additional job opportunities
for the employees working in the traditional brick-and-
mortar economy. Collins et al. [Collins et al., 2019] nd
that in the US, the share of the workforce with income
from gig work has grown by 1.9 percentage points of
the workforce between 2000 and 2016. In the overall
gig economy, about 60% of the workforce also have a
full-time salaried income over the course of year.
e Impact of Gig Economy
e rise of technology, cheap labor, and entrepreneur-
ial spirit is aiding the growth of the gig economy. e
platforms enable workers to connect across geographi-
cal boundaries. Consequently, the outcomes are rais-
ing productivity, optimizing employment and income
distribution. In this section, we consider these dimen-
sions in detail.
Productivity and Specialization
e rise of the gig economy is likely to increase overall
productivity due to increase in labor force participation
rates and improved access to lower-wage workers from
abroad, leading to more specialization and standard-
ization of work. For instance, over the last few decades,
Europe has been witnessing an ageing society and a
fall in labor productivity. With falling birth rates, an
ageing population, it is dicult to increase productiv-
ity through traditional labor force participation meth-
ods. e population growth rates in many Eurozone
countries have fallen below the required replacement
rate threshold of 2.1. For instance, the net population
growth rates are 1.38 for Greece, 1.39 for Spain, 1.41 for
Italy, and 1.94 for the UK. It is estimated that for Spain
and Greece, the over-65-year-old population will in-
crease from around 17% to 25% by 2030 [Banik, 2019].
An ageing society with strong trade unions nds it dif-
cult to increase worker productivity [Sherk, 2009].4
However, this is likely to change with the spread of gig
work which increases productivity by increasing labor
participation through digital platforms. Rather than
hiring one generalist to complete all tasks, companies
can designate tasks to various freelancers specialized
in that area. Workers are also more accountable as per-
formance standards dictate future incomes. Connected
global labor markets will lead to a rise in economic
productivity even in countries in Europe which now
have a shortage in the supply of labor. Workers from
labor-abundant developing countries are likely to gain.
Owing to the standardized rules, in a gig-world, low-
salaried service workers from developing countries
can now earn more by engaging in similar job proles
in established economies. ere are no entry barriers
and all that is needed is access to mobile/internet and
electricity connections. e rise in labor productivity,
as well as an increase in per-capita income can hap-
pen not only because of presence in gig work but also
from the structural transformation brought in through
technological innovation [Bassanini, Scarpetta, 2002].
Employment and Labor Participation
Labor participation in a gig world comes from a va-
riety of sources. e lower-income individuals are
more likely to participate on labor platforms than
higher-income counterparts [Farrell, Greig, 2016].
As of 2016, 0.6% of the people in the lowest income
quintile earned income from labor platforms such as
Upwork and Uber, whereas the remaining 0.4% is de-
pendent on capital platforms like Airbnb. is lower
income group is also more persistent in using the labor
platform: 56% of the participants in the lowest income
Source: [AfDB et al., 2018].
Figure 1. Source of Labor
Productivity Growth (%)
3 See: https://usafacts.org/articles/what-gig-economy/#:~:text=the%20United%20States%3F-,According%20to%20the%20Bureau%20of%20Labor%20
Statistics%2C%20there%20are%201.6,1%25%20of%20the%20US%20workforce; accessed 27 July 2020.
4 An ageing country is one with 10% or more of its population above 60 years of age. See [Sherk, 2009].
22 FORESIGHT AND STI GOVERNANCE Vol. 15 No 1 2021
bracket continued accessing the platform within 12
months compared to 47% of the middle-income par-
ticipants, and 40% from the highest income quintile.
ere are no barriers based on caste, religion, gender,
and location. Women comprise more than a third of
15,000 users of the digital platform Souktel in the West
Bank and Gaza region, but only 19% of the entire labor
force in the same area.5 In the US, before the advent
of Airbnb, African American rental hosts were get-
ting 12% less rent than their white American counter-
parts for the same type of house in the same location
[Edelman, Luca, 2014].6 Spatial location of workers
whether urban, rural, or small towns does not matter.
Online labor markets such as Freelancer and Upwork
are likely to substitute for physical labor migration and
hence the uptake in working opportunities on digital
platforms. e gig jobs have a spill-over eect not only
on labor markets [World Bank, 2015; Gomez-Herrera
et al., 2017]. For example, aer the introduction of
taxi services by Uber and Ola, taxi fares were reduced
in major cities in India [Pandya et al., 2017]. e gig
economy has other societal benets such as a reduc-
tion in motor vehicle accidents and trac congestion
[Greenwood, Wattal, 2017] and the improvement of air
quality [Tran, Sokas, 2017].
e benets from the advent of the gig economy as
a complex and ambiguous phenomenon are not uni-
formly distributed. Full-time employment in the gig
economy may lead to lower-income and economic
vulnerability of lower-skilled workers in developed
countries [Bergman, Jean, 2016]. As the workers from
less developed countries get connected to the poten-
tial recruiters in developed regions, their wage rates
are likely to increase at a faster rate. Similarly, a low-
skilled worker from the developed country is likely to
lose out in the presence of global competition. ings
may get more dicult for these unskilled laborers in
the presence of technological innovation. is leads
to a skewed income distribution globally. For exam-
ple, a rise in wage inequality in Germany results from
rms paying more to their high-skilled workers in
comparison to the others [Card et al., 2013]. As the
availability of high-skilled and talented workers are
limited, wage premium increases. In the US, the rea-
son for wage inequality has to do with more competi-
tive rms tending to keep their high-skilled laborers
as full-time workers, by paying a wage premium. e
low-skilled work is outsourced, both in the US, as well
as in other developed countries including Sweden,
Japan, and the United Kingdom, typically as gig work.
An International Labor Organization report suggests
that gig workers are making less than the government-
mandated minimum wage rate [ILO, 2018]. About
two-thirds of the US workers using the Amazon plat-
form made less than the federal minimum wage rate
of $7.25 an hour and only 7% of Germans on the Click
worker platform made the statutory minimum wage
of 8.84 Euros ($10.40) an hour.7 Virtual “sweatshops”
created by technology platforms are largely unregu-
lated with no oor on minimum wage rates. e work-
ers do not have access to other fringe benets such
as health insurance, sick leaves, working hours, the
continuation of contracts, and settlement of disputes
[Chandy, 2017]. Currently platform services are com-
ing under increasing pressure to adhere to the rules
that are applicable to traditional service providers in
those elds. e city of Seattle has passed a law permit-
ting Uber and Ly drivers to unionize and the driv-
ers receive unemployment benets.8 In a court ruling
against a garment manufacturer in India, the Supreme
Court of India passed a judgment stating that female
contractual laborers who are working from home
doing piece work would be considered “employees”
of the company who has engaged them to do work
Another possible source of unequal income distri-
bution arises from ownership of capital platforms.
Although platform soware has become ubiquitous, the
market valuation of companies such as Uber, Airbnb,
Facebook, and Amazon, put together, may in fact be
higher than the GDP of many low-income countries.
e drivers hired by Uber in the US were embroiled in
a long-drawn legal battle, arguing they should be treat-
ed as employees and not as an independent contrac-
tors, with a better non-pecuniary benet [Lobel, 2016].
For instance, although drivers using the Uber platform
are paid by the job and have control over their work
hours and geographical preference for operation, Uber
set the passenger pay-rate and displaced the drivers
falling below a minimum rating point. Drivers led a
class-action suit during 2013, with Uber nally agree-
ing to pay $20 million to settle the case in 2019.9
Exogenous shocks, such as COVID-19, can also
change distribution of income. In a survey conducted
by APPJOBS, comprising of 1,400 workers from 58
dierent countries, the study nds the sectors which
benetted from the pandemics includes delivery, con-
sulting, freelancing, and online surveys. Whereas the
in-person sectors, such as house sitting, babysitting,
driving, and hospitality (hotel and tourism) industries,
got negatively impacted [AppJobs, 2020].
5 https://blogs.worldbank.org/developmenttalk/narrowing-gender-gaps-through-online-job-matching-how-does-souktel-do-it, accessed 19.02.2021
6 However, the organized labour market comes with a tag of equal opportunity employer, wherein the employer agrees not to discriminate against employ-
ee or job applicants because of race, national origin, and gender. See [Edelman, Luca, 2014].
7 https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-01-19/europe-stands-up-for-gig-economy-workers. Accessed 21 April 2020.
8 See: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/15/technology/seattle-clears-the-way-for-uber-drivers-to-form-a-union.html; accessed 20 April 2020
9 See: https://techcrunch.com/2019/03/12/uber-agrees-to-pay-drivers-20-million-to-settle-independent-contractor-lawsuit/; accessed 19 June 2020
2021 Vol. 15 No 1 FORESIGHT AND STI GOVERNANCE 23
Impact of the Gig Economy on the
e largest impact of the gig economy occurs in the
areas of corporate strategies and performance manage-
ment. In the traditional organizational forms, whether
hierarchical, matrix, or network, the work is broken
down in discrete units and allocated to workers in
logical sequences of assembly-type dependency struc-
tures to ensure a swi, even ow [Schmenner, Swink,
1998]. However, the real-life organizations experience
sub-optimal performance due to structural imperfec-
tions, incomplete specications of work elements, co-
ordination delays, and ambiguity experienced by the
human element. Organizations compensate for such
imperfections by building buers of extra manpower
and skills by calibrating the processes of worker selec-
tion and allocation. e dynamic of work expansion
or contraction leads to the uneven absorption of such
extra manpower adding to the coordination problems.
In practice, therefore, the work environment of most
organizations is plagued by overstang and under-
stang at dierent stages of work cycles. e net eect
of such a dynamic is a patchwork of idle time within
the organizational environments. e idle time occurs
both during the switchover between the tasks as well
as endogenously within the tasks due to workers pac-
ing their work dierently under dierent conditions
[Gevers et al., 2006, 2015; Brodsky, Amabile, 2018].
Such idle time in an unevenly overstaed organization
is of serious concern to the management teams, who
oen employ various methods to plan work to maxi-
e advent of the gig economy and availability of gig
workers or freelancers represents an opportunity for
managers to package work dierently to assign it to gig
workers through online platforms. While such assign-
ments take the form of short-term engagements, they
are dierent from outsourcing which generally are
semi-permanent arrangements of non-core activities
performed through business-to-business contracts and
paid on the basis of dened inputs or outcomes. Gig
work on the other hand involves the element of choice
on part of the gig worker, short-term contracts, and
payment on the basis of pre-dened outcomes and typ-
ically are covered by person-to-person, or by business-
to-person contracts. For instance, the consulting rms
working on complex contracts require specic subject
matter experts. Such experts are rarely employed with
anyone on a full-time basis; instead, the rms obtain
them through the gig channels. us, the gig work can
consist of high expertise as well as commodity services
such as canteen work, security, courier, transportation,
and so on. Such a broad scope poses both challenges
as well as opportunities for the operating management,
who must develop the organizational capability to plan,
decouple, and dene the work packages, participate on
the digital platform to select the gig workers and assign
the work, and control the performance. Such a capabil-
ity remains weak within the traditional organizations.
is implies that organizations wishing to leverage the
benets of the gig economy must develop the process-
es to codify the work packages and the matching skills
to be sourced from the gig platforms. Evidently, the or-
ganizations investing in such capabilities benet from
greater exibility, scalability, and agility.
Another aspect of the gig economy is its retarding eect
on the career and skill development of the gig worker
[Kost et al., 2020]. As the organizations adapt their pro-
cesses to integrate gig work, the skill proles of their
full-time employees must change from generalists to
specialists skilled in controlling the outsourced work
and managing the arms-length relationships with the
gig workers. Traditional organizations structure the
roles of their employees in accordance with the princi-
ples of division of labor, repetitive tasks, and hierarchi-
cal control. Integrating gig work implies considerable
changes in the managerial and interpersonal skills of
the full-time employees, and corresponding changes in
the processes of selection, tment, training and perfor-
mance management [Meijerink, Keegan, 2019].
Finally, it should be quite evident that the applicabil-
ity of gig work will be non-uniform within the value
chains. Areas such as new product development, prod-
uct strategy, or branding maybe less amenable to plat-
form-type gig outsourcing, compared to the relatively
standardized and non-critical areas such as employee
benets, payroll, transportation, warehousing, website
development, etc. Traditional organizations following
a ‘one size ts all’ design philosophy will nd it chal-
lenging to switch to more exible and agile designs for
themselves, as they must overcome the hurdles posed
by generating the consensus and the action within the
existing person-organization ts.
Gig Economy in India
India has recently witnessed a rapid rise in the gig econ-
omy and gig work in the recent years as evidenced by
the mounting anecdotal evidence. India has emerged
as the h largest country in the world for exi-
stang behind US, China, Brazil, and Japan, and had
about 3 million gig workers in 2018. It estimates that
this gure will rise to 6 million by end of 2021.10 It lists
Banking, Financial Services, Insurance, Information
Technology, and Retail as the major sectors absorbing
the gig work. e growth of gig work is increasingly
driven by large corporate companies who have begun
to leverage independent consultants and freelancers to
drive high-priority strategic projects and to test new
product or service models [FlexingIt, 2019]. ere has
show/69854133.cms; accessed 21.07.2020
Banik N., Padalkar М., pp. 19–29
24 FORESIGHT AND STI GOVERNANCE Vol. 15 No 1 2021
been a sharp growth in the registration of freelancers
on the job portals, with 73% of the freelancers indicat-
ing that they do not intend to return to 9-to-5 full-time
jobs [AppJobs, 2020]. While the emergence of the gig
phenomenon is too recent to be comprehensively sur-
veyed or studied by the researchers, the media articles
suggest that the growth in the gig economy is driven
by strong positive trends on both demand and supply
From a demand perspective, gig work involves parcel-
ling out short pieces of work with predened outcomes
by engaging workers on a non-permanent basis and
paying them on the basis of the achievement of the
outcomes. us, the ability to spin o work packages is
key to the demand for gig work. Most of the gig work
until 2015 came from start-ups and small early-stage
entrepreneurs. e recent entry of large corporate or-
ganizations trying systemically reengineer the work
processes imparts sustainability and robustness to the
demand. Such reengineering involves partitioning of
all work into routine and non-routine categories, the
careful reassessment of the work processes, and devel-
opment of managerial systems for engaging/outsourc-
ing gig labor. Examples of routine work include pro-
cesses related to ongoing functions such as production,
sales, inventory management, preventive plant main-
tenance, etc. ese activities require steady manpower
to be engaged on a full-time employment basis. On
the other hand, special projects or sporadic, one-time
work do not require permanent manpower. Examples
of such non-routine activities include the design of
new products or services, market surveys and analysis,
soware development, process consultancy, occasional
breakdown of specialized machinery, infrastructure or
layout changes, and so on. In general, the organiza-
tions nd it economical to engage the gig labor either
because they do not possess the required expertise for
such activities or do not have the economic justica-
tion to engage such expertise on a full-time basis; or
the tasks being assigned for gig work are deemed suf-
ciently non-critical and low-valued [Howcro et al.,
Coming to the supply side of the labor economy, India
historically has had a large workforce in the unorga-
nized (also called informal) sectors. e informal sec-
tor employs more than 90% of the labor and contrib-
utes 50% to the GDP of the country [Government of
India, 2012]. Agriculture and Forestry, Fishing, Trade,
Hospitality, Community, Social and Personal Services,
Real Estate and Construction, and Manufacturing are
the leading sectors for absorbing unorganized labor.
According to 2015 data, nearly 85% of the workforce
were engaged without job contracts or contracts of
less than one year [Government of India, 2014]. Given
the large size of India’s unorganized economy, it is no
surprise that it has continued to draw attention from
diverse interests such as policymakers, legislators,
economists, lawyers, and tax authorities and has gen-
erated extensive studies. While specic surveys and
studies about the gig economy remain sparse, available
reports indicate that it is fairly sizeable and is experi-
encing rapid growth. It is believed that workers in an
unorganized economy have a low-lever or no quali-
cation. Extant literature on the gig economy however
cites choice and exibility as key qualifying attributes
to be a gig worker [Rosenblat, 2016]. Initially, gig work-
ers were characterized as highly skilled professionals
doing multiple short assignments as a way of earning
their livelihoods.11 Since then, several authors have re-
tained the attributes of diversity and skills and added
the positive mediating eect of technology platforms
on the gig phenomenon [Lepanjuuri et al., 2018; Gleim
et al., 2019; Wood et al., 2019]. We argue that choice,
exibility, and intermediation by technology platforms
are the key attributes of the gig work. Consequently,
those parts of the informal economy which lack the
elements of voluntary choice and platform intermedia-
tion must be excluded from the gig phenomenon.
Since its independence, India’s public policies have had
a strong socialist orientation, and this has reected
in its labor laws. Present-day India has well-invested
structures of labor laws for the protection of the work-
ers from unfair and exploitative practices of employers.
ese laws were enacted in the times when industrial
manufacturing was the dominant part of the formal
economy, and the service sector was miniscule in size.
With the passage of time, the manufacturing sector has
contracted from 40% to less than 20%, while services
have grown to more than 50% of the country’s GDP.
However, the labor laws have not kept pace with the
changing times, and face criticism from several quar-
ters that they are excessively restrictive, and their pro-
labor orientation is choking investments as well as
growth in organized employment. Taking cognizance
of such criticism, the government has tried to bring in
reforms in the labor laws, however this remains a work
in progress, with experts claiming these attempts to be
at best anaemic.12 e issue of informal sector workers
is lost in the political cross winds of change. All regula-
tory frameworks apply to the organized sector workers,
leaving the very large informal sector workers unpro-
tected against adverse practices by the employers.
e rapid rise of the gig economy is occurring in the
legal landscape that has no regulation whatsoever, and
this exacerbates the issue of worker rights, protections,
and social security. In 2018, the drivers of the ride-
hailing services in India went on a strike protesting the
compensation structures of Ola and Uber – two rms
operating the intermediating technology platforms.13
In a paper on this issue, Surie [Surie, 2018] analyzes
11 https://www.fastcompany.com/1222400/thriving-gig-economy, accessed 20.02.2020.
12 https://www.nancialexpress.com/economy/covi19-labour-reforms-still-a-perennial-hot-potato-in-india/1991526/; accessed 26.07.2020
13 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uber-ola-strike/uber-ola-drivers-strike-in-india-demanding-higher-fares-idUSKCN1MW1WZ; accessed 26.07.2020
2021 Vol. 15 No 1 FORESIGHT AND STI GOVERNANCE 25
the nature of the engagement of these gig workers and
argues for regulatory frameworks and bodies noting
the potential for the exploitation of these workers.
e rapid rise of technology platforms and the gig
economy has amplied the inequities in the labor situ-
ation. Unequal access to the internet and gender dis-
parity in labor participation rates imply that several
sections of the population have not been able to benet
from the gains of modern technologies. First, despite
the rapid penetration of mobile telephony in India, the
rural populations have generally not moved on from
2G telephony and thus lack good quality or high-speed
access to internet. is severely restricts their ability
to engage in complex transactions. Second, the female
populations have not been able to participate in the gig
economy, owing to multiple factors such as poorer lit-
eracy rates and technology illiteracy, familial responsi-
bilities, and gender-determined social constraints. e
issues of social security, workplace harassment, and
contract enforcement transcend all segments of gig
workers. A paper by the Indian think tank Observer
Research Foundation notes dispute redressal, ombuds-
man of platforms, protection against workplace ha-
rassment, emergency button for physical safety, social
security, and contractual protection as key areas for
regulatory interventions [Kasliwal, 2020].
In summary, the growth of the gig economy in India
holds considerable potential to address the endemic
problem of employment generation and provides an
impetus to the stalled process of reforms in India’s
labor laws. However, the promise of the gig phenom-
enon is unlikely to be delivered without enacting the
necessary regulatory structures and legal frameworks.
Model Development and Analysis
We developed a model to relate the size of the gig
economy in terms of the contextual macroeconomic
variables. e platform-based economy is creating new
value by monetizing economic resources such as as-
sets and labor. We anticipate the availability of mobile,
internet and broadband connectivity, and electricity
connections to aid the gig labor economy. Accordingly,
we motivate the following hypothesis:
H1: e number of gig workers is positively inuenced by
the availability of internet, mobile, broadband subscrip-
tions, and electricity connections.
Further, we posit that workers in the low skill catego-
ries face high search costs for work and continued un-
certainty in accessing opportunities. e emergence of
technology platforms will induce such workers to join
the gig economy by leveraging the technology infra-
structure. We therefore hypothesize that the supply of
gig workers would be higher when per-capita income
levels are lower. Accordingly, we motivate the follow-
H2: Rising per capita income negatively inuences the
number of gig workers.
e dependent variable is the number of gig workers in
the country. ILOSTAT published by the International
Labor Organization (ILO) provides employment data
by occupation and gender, segregated by dierent oc-
cupation categories.14 ILO estimates of employment by
occupation categorize skills on four levels from level 1
(Low skilled) to level 4 (Professionals). ILOSTAT data
suers from several limitations. First, it reports data
from conventional labor markets such as manufactur-
ing and construction; and does not cover gig workers.
Second, a large proportion of professional workers
such as university professors, doctors, and engineers
are part of the organized labor markets and do not par-
ticipate in the gig economy. Hence the ILOSTAT un-
derstates the estimates of professionals doing gig work.
ird, ILO denes employment as worker employed
for at least one hour in a week or a day [Hussmanns,
2007]. Such a measure fails to capture any collateral
wage-earning work. For instance, if a worker employed
full-time performs additional job(s), then such addi-
tional work is not counted in the employment statistics.
Fourth, it is dicult to capture the value of gig work in
areas such as product development, design, and mar-
keting in published macro-economic data [Corrado,
Hulten, 2010]. In general, the published macroeco-
nomic data does not capture the online gig workers,
even though such workers are large in number, espe-
cially in the developing countries.
To overcome these limitations, we use the Online
Labor Index (OLI).15 is dataset oers gig economy-
equivalent of the conventional labor market statis-
tics. OLI tracks workers using labor market platforms
across countries and occupations posted on major on-
line gig platforms in near real time and provides the
counts of workers engaged in gig labor. OLI is based
on data by accessing websites through collection tech-
nologies such as application programming interface,
scraping, or downloading the data from the digital
platforms [Kässi, Lehdonvirta, 2018]. It uses data from
unique visitor counts on leading gig platforms from
Alexa,16 and surveys of top-ve gig platforms: Upwork.
com, Freelancer.com, Peopleperhour.com, Mturk.com,
and Guru.com.17 It includes the following occupation
14 ILOSTAT: https://www.ilo.org/ilostat/faces/wcnav_defaultSelection;ILOSTATCOOKIE=CgBvIYKcLYPs-arXRjMILEuDcsbDiGtTJeGhbnE-zyGkRf4ST-
SD1!595095360?_afrLoop=1828381741967760&_afrWindowMode=0&_afrWindowId=null; accessed on 14 May 2020
15 Published by the Oxford Internet Institute. See: https://ilabour.oii.ox.ac.uk/online-labour-index/ accessed on 26 June 2020.
16 Alexa’s site popularity trac rankings are based on the anonymous usage patterns of one of the largest and most global samples of internet users available
in the world. See: https://aws.amazon.com/alexa-top-sites/; accessed on 02 January 2021
17 Our data set is based on OLI surveys conducted in July 2016 and again in February 2017.
Banik N., Padalkar М., pp. 19–29
26 FORESIGHT AND STI GOVERNANCE Vol. 15 No 1 2021
classes: Professional services (such as accounting, con-
sulting, legal, etc.), clerical and data entry, creative
and multimedia (such as animation, logo design, etc.),
sales and marketing support, soware development
and technology, and writing and translation. e OLI
database is more exhaustive with many countries in
the sample, and to our knowledge is the rst database
to give a comprehensive estimate of the number of gig
For explanatory variables, we propose ICT components
namely: mobile telephony, internet access, broadband
connectivity, and electricity connection. Other studies
also point to the pivotal role of ICT in the gig economy
[De Stefano, 2016; Aubert-Tarbey et al., 2018]. For in-
stance, a joint study by the Foundation for European
Progressive Studies and UNI Europa reports that 42%
of the respondents had used online platforms to nd
services, including taxi drivers, builders, graphic de-
signers, and accountants.18
To rule out the multicollinearity objections, we con-
structed a new variable, TI, by merging these four
ICT variables. We take TI as an explanatory variable.
Drawing from an earlier discussion in this paper, we
expect the gig economy to positively aect the incomes
of the gig workers. Gomez-Herrera et al. [Gomez-
Herrera et al., 2017] nd that workers from low-income
countries are likely to participate in jobs oered by the
high-income countries.19 Accordingly, we include log
of per-capita income as an explanatory variable.
e data on mobile, internet and broadband connec-
tivity, electricity connections, and per-capita income
is taken from World Development Indicators [World
Bank, 2017], detailing data about 139 countries.20
We follow Ordinary Least Squares method to estimate
the following equation:
OLIi = α + βTi + γPCi ,
Where, OLI refers to the online labor index, TI is the
technology index, and PC refers to log of per-capita
income. Subscript i refers to the country.
Results and Analysis
Using Principal Component Analysis [Mardia et al.,
1979], we construct TI as vector X (X = X1, X2,…, X4)
where, X1 = mobile, X2 = internet, X3 = broadband sub-
scription, and X4 = electricity connections. Before con-
structing TI, we standardize the data to ensure unit-free
comparability among the data. e rst principal com-
ponent shows maximal variance of 1.94 and accounts
for 48.5% variation among all regressors (Figure 2). It
assigns weights of 0.65, 0.35, 0.66, and 0.05 to X1, X2,
X3, and X4 respectively. e high weights of broadband
and internet connectivity indicate the high relative im-
portance within the technology infrastructure, while
connectivity to mobile telephony and to electricity
have moderate and low importance, respectively. e
second principal component with a variance of 1.09
however accounts for only 27.3% of the total variation.
We therefore retain TI with its weights as the variable
for the regression. For each country, we then compute
TI using soware package EViews 11.
Table 1 reports the ndings from the regression analy-
sis. e results support the hypothesis that technology
infrastructure is signicantly positively related to the
number of gig workers. e signicant negative per
capita income suggests that workers from low-income
countries are induced to participate in the gig econo-
my. e employers and the rms contracting out gig
work are predominantly located in high-income coun-
tries, while the gig work can be outsourced to low-
18 http://englishbulletin.adapt.it/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/crowd-working-surveypdf1.pdf accessed on 26 June 2020
19 Per-capita income follows log-normal distribution, with a vast majority of people earning low incomes.
20 e World Bank classies countries into three groups: low income, middle income and high income. As of 1 July 2018, low-income economies are dened
as those with a gross national income (GNI) per-capita of $995 or less in 2017; lower middle-income economies are those with a GNI per capita between
$996 and $3,895; upper middle-income economies are those between $3,896 and $12,055; high-income economies are those with a GNI per capita of
$12,055 or more. For data source, see: https://databank.worldbank.org/data/download/WDI_excel.zip accessed on 26 June 2020.
Source: compiled by the authors.
Mobile Internet Broadband
1 2 3 4
Figure 2. Cumulative Proportions
of Eigen Values
Vari abl e Coecient
Constant 0.036** (0.017)
Technology Index 0.008* (0.002)
Per capita Income -0.003*** (0.001)
Adjusted R-squared 0.13
No. of Observations 139
Note: Robust Standard Errors in Parenthesis; *p<0.01, **p<0.05, ***p<0.1.
Table 1. Gig Worker Index (Base Regression)
2021 Vol. 15 No 1 FORESIGHT AND STI GOVERNANCE 27
income countries [Gomez-Herrera et al., 2017; Song et
al., 2019]. Within a particular country, as the evidence
from the US suggests, high-skilled workers who al-
ready have traditional jobs are less likely to alter their
behavior to search for gig work [Collins et al., 2019].
For robustness checks of the results, we perform sen-
sitivity analysis [Levine, Renelt, 1992] by including
additional explanatory variables to our base regres-
sion model: Manufacturing value-added to GDP and
Service value-added to GDP. e results from the aug-
mented regression show that the coecients of manu-
facturing value-added to GDP and service value-add-
ed to GDP are insignicant.
e gig economy complements the traditional brick-
and-mortar economy by creating markets to exploit
spaces that have remained inaccessible. e paper ex-
plores the drivers of the gig economy phenomenon and
discusses its implications for labor productivity, em-
ployment, income distribution, and corporate strate-
gies. As a case in point, we motivate the hypothesis that
the economics and the availability of ICT infrastruc-
ture moderate the supply of gig labor. We nd that ICT
infrastructure plays a pivotal role in the spread of the
Given its ability to connect workers across the national
boundaries, we nd that such transnational reach does
not lead to wage equalization. Rather, we nd evidence
of rising income disparity across low-skilled and high-
skilled gig labor, indicating that the phenomenon
impacts the dierent skill groups dierently. At its in-
tersection points with the traditional economy, busi-
nesses in sectors such as transportation, health, edu-
cation, personal services, and the gig economy have
caused displacement of brick-and-mortar workers.
Given our nding about the unequal benets of the gig
economy across activities and skill classes, the policy-
makers should evaluate appropriate regulatory or tax
interventions. e policymakers also need to design
interventions to address the needs of such displaced
workers through retraining or through alternative em-
A few limitations of our work can be readily acknowl-
edged. First, while we nd that technology infra-
structure plays a signicant positive role in the gig
economy, there are empirical reports about the un-
even spread of the phenomenon. It is necessary to
go beyond the infrastructure and examine whether
societal variables especially related to the ability to
access and use such technology infrastructure exist.
Second, the demand for gig work is inuenced by
governmental policies related to unemployment ben-
ets. Cross-sectional analysis falls short of studying
the policy impacts and will require longitudinal stud-
ies. ird, the dierential absorption of technology
infrastructure across occupations and age groups will
require further studies to elicit the workings of the
phenomenon. Finally, further research is necessary to
understand how the skill levels of workers aect their
participation in the gig economy.
is work is supported by the National Research Foundation
of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-
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