A record number of Americans are opting for something other than the traditional 9-to-5 office job.That's according to new survey results from freelance job and talent search site Upwork, which said a record 60 million Americans freelanced in 2022. The Freelance Forward survey was conducted from September 21, 2022 to October 7, 2022 and included 3,000 US working adults — including 1,000 freelancers. Thirty-nine percent, a survey high, of the total US workforce freelanced over the past year in 2022, including those who freelanced full time or part time. That's up from 36% in both 2021 and 2020.
The shares were 34% almost a decade earlier in both 2014 and 2015. The record share this year signals more Americans are turning to freelance work amid continued employer struggles to find workers. While sky-high inflation has led some workers to freelance to earn additional income, some are doing it full-time, and have found it to have a lot of benefits. "The share of freelancers has been increasing because people more now than ever want to have choice and control over what they do and how they work and when they work and really over their quality of life," Margaret Lilani, vice president of talent solutions at Upwork, told Insider.Lilani said one perk of freelancing is having control of work — something that may not be true for all non-freelancing work."People can have control over what they do, when they do it, where they do it," Lilani said.Younger Americans are interested in influencer content while older workers want flexibility and retirement optionsYoung Americans in particular are gravitating to this style of work.
According to the survey, 43% of Gen Z workers and 46% of millennial workers performed freelance work in 2022, compared to 35% of Gen X workers who said the same. The share is even smaller for working Boomers, at 27%. Per Upwork, one reason behind the higher shares for younger generations relative to older generations is because of the growth in influencer work. About a quarter, 23%, of freelancers create influencer-style content, with 27% of Gen Z saying this."They've grown up with the internet and they've grown up with social media," Lilani said about Gen Zers.
"They have access to career paths and opportunities that exist outside of that traditional corporate world because of where they are. We see young professionals jumping right into freelance careers."Outside of just freelance work, a separate McKinsey survey suggests that a higher share of those ages 18 to 24 are doing independent work compared to other employed workers. Fifty-one percent of this age group said this — with independent work including freelance, contract, temporary, and/or gig work — compared to 36% of all other ages."Young workers are also less likely to have partners and dependents to support, so they may have the flexibility to work multiple jobs or work in independent positions that those with families may avoid," the authors of the McKinsey article wrote.
Older generations may be interested in freelancing because of the flexibility and control it offers. "Millennials and Gen X seem to be freelancing more for autonomy and flexibility," Lilani said. "So instead of being forced into offices and having that rigid 9-to-5, these groups value remote work and autonomy."Older workers may also want to freelance as they head into retirement, according to Lilani."Some are gonna be freelancing in order to supplement their expenses until they reach 65 and others freelance in retirement because they wanna keep working," Lilani said. "They would rather be able to control that and dictate the when, the where, and the for whom they work to keep busy and to keep the earnings coming in as well." Freelance work varies but about half are doing programming work and other knowledge workPer the report, most freelancers are not influencers, nor are they the Uber drivers or food delivery workers typically associated with the gig economy.
Fifty-one percent of freelancers said they provided knowledge services like computer programming, marketing, and business consulting. Thirty-seven percent said they provide "unskilled" services, while 31% said they sell goods as part of their freelance work. Some people are freelancing in addition to a more traditional job. Per the report, 17% of US freelancers generate "income from a mix of traditional employment and freelance work.""What we see with people who do this on the side is they may be investigating something that they're passionate about and exploring that step from corporate into freelance," Lilani said.But while some have turned to freelancing in recent years because they prefer it over traditional work, the report suggests earning extra income is the primary motivator.
Eighty-three percent of respondents listed earning extra money as a reason for their freelancing, compared to slightly lower levels that listed things like a more flexible work schedule, being in control of their financial future, and being their own boss as reasons they've turned to freelancing.If the US enters a recession or inflation remains elevated, even more workers might find themselves pursuing freelance work not because they want to, but because they need to."We certainly saw some preference-based self-employment over the pandemic," says Aaron Terrazas, chief economist for Glassdoor, previously told Insider. "But as economic conditions get a little bit more difficult, you can certainly imagine it shifting more toward survival strategy."