The coronavirus pandemic has introduced many Americans to more flexible work schedules, as most have become adjusted to a work-from-home lifestyle. For some, it’s been a difficult transition, while others may appreciate the greater flexibility that at-home work provides. While this has been a new reality for many, there is a growing number of Americans who have already chosen a more flexible work lifestyle. 

These individuals work as independent contractors and as such, they get to choose when, where, and how they work. While forfeiting some benefits and security of traditional employees, they get to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of being their own boss and often have other responsibilities which makes the flexibility of their jobs even more important. 

But since January of 2020, this work choice has been under threat. California enacted its Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) and placed unreasonable restrictions upon thousands of independent contractors throughout the state. While legislators argued that they passed the bill to protect the “rights” of independent contractors and to prevent the misclassification of individuals as contractors instead of traditional W-2 employees, many independent contractors have suffered extensive loss of income or even their entire livelihood due to these restrictions. Even California legislators have realized their mistake to an extent and have carved out piecemeal exemptions in the law for certain professions that have been able to get their point across. But many Californians who have not gained exemptions continue to suffer professional devastation from this law. 

The PRO Act, passed in the House earlier this month, looks to do something similar to California’s misguided AB5, except that it will be imposed upon all states, with no exemptions (read more about it here). 

Liya Palagashvili and Paolo Suarez of the Mercatus Center just published two new working papers: Women as Independent Workers in the Gig Economy and Employee vs. Independent Worker.

They found that while men currently constitute a larger share of the independent workforce than women, the women’s share has undergone considerable growth and continues to do so. They also found that after separating out ridesharing and delivery services, women dominate gig economy work. But even within the independent workforce, men and women chose different professions. 

Broadly, Palagashvili and Suarez found that “women self-select into independent work jobs that have greater temporal flexibility.” Often, professional choices made by women are influenced by a desire to balance other priorities with their professional lives. This research supports that claim by showing that even within a more flexible workforce, women still sought out opportunities with greater freedom, allowing them to balance their responsibilities while also continuing to work and provide income for their families. 

Importantly, their research also finds that “such work extends opportunities to women who would otherwise be unable to take on employment.” Flexible work keeps women attached to the labor force.

Despite many claims by proponents of bills like AB5 and the PRO Act, Palagashvili and Suarez also found that independent contract work is significantly different from work performed by traditional employees: 

“Specifically, gig and independent workers rely less on interdependent team production, and they are more individual-output-based. For example, if a taxi driver represents one extreme (on the “independent work” side of the spectrum), an education administrator would represent the opposite extreme.”

The research by Palagashvili and Suarez adds to the argument that women want and choose jobs that offer them flexibility and the ability to balance different priorities. To learn more about this new research, listen to a recent pop-up episode of She Thinks where Palagashvili joins IWF’s Patrice Onwuka to talk about this new research and women in the freelancing world.