According to McKinsey Global Institute's just-published annual survey of independent workers, freelancers continue to advance as a total share of the employed workforce. Our research reveals that 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population in the United States and the EU-15, or up to 162 million individuals, engage in independent work.
This is based on analysis of existing data as well as an extensive MGI workforce survey across six countries. There are four key segments of independent workers: Thirty percent are “free agents,” who actively choose independent work and derive their primary income from it. Approximately 40 percent are “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, make up 14 percent. The “financially strapped,” who do supplemental independent work out of necessity, account for 16 percent.
Independent work is rapidly evolving as digital platforms create large-scale, efficient marketplaces where workers connect with buyers of services. While this digital transformation unfolds, several other forces may fuel growth in the independent workforce: the stated aspirations of traditional workers who wish to become independent, the large unemployed and inactive populations who want to work, and increased demand for independent services from both consumers and organizations.