In the past couple of years, many people have become freelancers or have started considering self-employment. As remote work transitions from a sporadic benefit to the norm, the Great Resignation is making employees and workers rethink the true nature of work.
We’ve put together 99+ freelance economy statistics that will help you better understand where we stand with the freelance economy.
5 of the most interesting freelance economy statistics:
Table of Contents
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In the U.S.
In 2017, there were 57 million freelancers, with numbers projected to increase to 70 million by 2022.(1)
At the onset of Covid-19, the overall U.S. unemployment rate jumped from 3.5% in February 2020 to 14.7% in April 2020.
U.S. freelancers had a short-term drop in demand, then the number of freelancers grew to 59 million1 and the freelance economy jumped 22% in 2020, reaching 1.2 trillion dollars.(4)
Covid-19’s social distancing rules affected mainly freelancers who worked in industries with on-site requirements (i.e., education and entertainment). 82% of new freelancers worked remotely as opposed to 56% of longstanding freelancers because new freelancers worked in industries that didn’t require them to be on-site (i.e., business, finance, computers, and mathematics).(4)
From 2019 to 2020, full-time freelancers grew from 28% to 36% and part-timers went from 44% to 48%. Only full-time employees who dabbled in part-time freelancing decreased from 25% to 14%.4 U.S. citizens who turned to freelancing in 2020 earned more than in their full time jobs.(4)
During the Covid-19 outbreak, 58% of people surveyed said they would consider becoming freelancers in the future because:
On a global scale
In a Payoneer report, when asked how Covid-19 impacted their work, the majority of surveyed freelancers experienced a decrease in demand for their work:
Freelance statistics in Ukraine, one of the fastest growing freelance markets pre-Covid-19, remained stable during the Covid-19 outbreak, and saw a slight increase in demand from both from U.S. and European clients.(3)
The global freelance market size today is an estimated 1.2 billion freelancers. This number is sure to grow as 32% of respondent companies in a Gartner report say they’re replacing full-time workers with contingents as a cost-saving measure.(30)
In the European Union, 19.2 million people made up the freelance market in 20201 and 22 million in 2021.(17) However, European freelance economy statistics count the total number of self-employed, which includes farmers and manual labourers, doctors and lawyers, and gig-economy workers.
In Australia, one million self-employed comprise 7.8% of the total workforce.(26) 20% of Australian respondents to Microsoft’s Worker Trend Index 2022 say they left their jobs in 2021.(28)
In 2021, the U.S. freelance growth rate slowed to an 8% increase with 1.3 trillion dollars in freelance economy revenue.
Between 2020 and 2021 the share of non-temporary U.S. freelancers grew from 33.8% to 35%.(4)
The freelance growth rate of U.S. skilled vs unskilled freelancers was up 50% in 2021. 51% of all post-graduate workers freelanced in 2021, increasing 6% from 2020.(4) The share of unskilled freelancers fell to 31% in 2021.(4)
In 2021, online job platforms saw a spike in usage, growing 40% from the previous year. 43% of freelancers plan to use them in 2022 and new freelancers say they depend on them to find their first clients.(9)
Here's the freelance market share of the most popular online platforms.
Upwork had $502.8 million in revenue in 2021 with 35% year-over-year growth from 2020.(4)
180 countries are represented on Upwork, which had 771,000 active clients in 2021, up 22% from 2020, and a Gross Service Volume (GSV) of $4,600 per client. Upwork doesn’t disclose the number of freelancers on its site.(4)
The top Upwork job categories are:
Founded in Tel Aviv, Israel, Fiverr earned $297.7 million in 2021, growing 57% from the previous year. In 2021, 4.2 million clients purchased services in 160 countries.(2) The majority of users come from the U.S.(22)
According to one report, the top job categories on Fiverr are:
The Australian freelance platform, Freelancer.com, connects 58,472,206 freelancers and companies across 247 “regions, territories, and countries.” Revenue reached US$34.6 million in 2021 with a year-over-year change of -0.5%.(14)
The top categories on Freelancer.com are:
Even though business is booming for online job platforms, more mature freelancers say they use these outlets to fill in project gaps. 51% say their main source of finding work is through word of mouth and 34% use social media.
European freelancers mirror this trend, with Gen X and Baby Boomers using networking and referrals to find leads while Gen Z and Millennials use online tech and social media.(5)
European freelancers rely on their online presence. 85% have a business website and 55% a social presence. They create content actively, yet less than half market themselves online. For those that do, they use technology such as newsletters, online ads, and social media.
In one survey, the majority of freelancers who limit their use to 1-2 online platforms have slightly higher economical success.(10)
29% of U.S. freelancers report working across borders, indicating an increase in the number of international clients.(9) However, European freelancers report stronger client relationships as do freelancers who limit their online platform use to only 1-2 websites.(10)
Freelancers also feel they have more job security as a freelancer than as a traditional employee.(9)
In another survey, 45% of freelancers feel more secure than last year, which is double the amount of people who feel less secure.(2)
The majority of freelancing studies are based on the U.S. workforce.
The average freelancer age is 40.(24) However, 34% of the current workforce are millennials and 17% are generation Z. So, freelancers under 40 outweigh the 49% of generation X and baby boomers combined.(9)
Though BIPOC freelance statistics are lacking, we know that in 2019, U.S. Freelancers were more racially diverse than the traditional U.S. workforce.(1)
One study(10) estimates that freelancers are predominant in Europe:
Another report studying freelancers with an online presence found India leader in the online global freelance supply with a 25% share thanks to their strong tech and English-language skills. They’re followed by Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom.(7)
Though the majority of online freelancers are male, the landscape of women freelancers varies across the global online network. While the U.S. leads with a high rate of female online freelancers, it has one of the lowest shares for women freelancers in software and tech.(7)
According to Payoneer, the number of women freelancers is increasing year over year.(3)
Rookie freelancers on Fiverr outweigh the veterans in today’s market. 67% have been working 0-3 years and 33% have been working 3+ years.(2)
Freelance writers however are fairly even, with 49% working 0-3 years and 51% freelancing between 3-11+ years.(18)
Freelancer earnings continue to grow year over year. Between Payoneer’s 2020 worldwide freelancer income report and its current one, the average hourly rate grew from $21 to $28.3 And 44% of U.S. freelancers say they currently earn more than traditional jobs versus 39% in 2020 and 32% in 2019.
The U.S. hourly rate is $28 which is higher than the average hourly rate of 70% of the U.S. workforce.4 Payoneer reports higher earnings by region, with freelancers from North America making $44/hour.
Women suffer wage gaps even in freelancing, with 48% reporting the lowest income levels versus 34% of men.(2) Payoneer reports that female freelancers make on average $23/hour versus $28/hour made by male freelancers.(23)
77% of freelancers say they’re not more financially stable since they started self-employment. 43% say they are less financially secure and 34% say they are about the same as before freelancing.(2)
However, the majority of freelancers did not choose to be independent contractors for the money. Personal growth, flexibility, and freedom are their main drivers. Only 7% choose freelancing for financial wellbeing.(2/4)
The number of freelancers making over 100K per year is rising, increasing 30% from 3 million freelancers in 2020, to 3.8 million in 2021.
The most lucrative freelancing jobs include computer programmers, data scientists, and developers, followed by marketing jobs. The digital and technology recruitment company, Talent, reports a 38% increase in demand for freelance technology experts in the past 3 years.(29) For example, a software engineer can earn approximately $88,000 a year.(15) Developers can earn at least $60/hour on Upwork.(11) In Australia, contractor technical architects can earn AUD110-160/hour.(29)
Superpath’s 2022 content marketing salary report reveals that freelance content marketers fare better than their full-time counterparts, with their freelance income growing 10+% from 2021.
Freelance earnings are less homogeneous in APAC than in North America. One report finds freelance writers in Singapore and Australia asking much higher rates than their counterparts in the rest of Asia.(27)
The most popular jobs are neither the most lucrative nor in high demand. Demand can also vary greatly based on location. For example, the Australian gig-economy platform, Airtasker, says it saw increased demand for freelance graphic designers, writers, and developers since 2020.(31)
The majority of freelancers are either creatives (33%) or consultants (21%), followed by writers, journalists, and content creators (17%).
95% of people surveyed market more than one skill, with Fiverr coining them “slash workers.” 61% of freelancers are specialists in 2 or 3 skills. Only 5% rely on one skill set, while just 13% work with one client at a time. 70% work on 2-4 projects at the same time.(2)
As more skilled workers are entering the workforce, more and more freelancers are in creative fields, like design, and in marketing, computers, and mathematics.(4)
There is a growing niche of freelancers who identify themselves as creators. MBO Partners did a deep dive into the freelance creator economy. Here are their findings:
The majority of independent creators say they are social media savvy and early adopters of the latest technology. 83% claim they use advanced tech versus 32% of traditional workers and 34% of freelancers overall.(9)
Since tech know-how is essential to their work, creators are more likely to build teams to complete projects. 55% say they collaborate with others versus 21% of non-creator freelancers.(9)
European freelancers tend to work longer hours, approximately 43 hours per week, but they invest more in themselves than traditional workers. On average, a freelancer spends 5 hours per week on training.(17)
For client acquisition, 56% of freelancers feel that marketing and personal branding are somewhat important, while 41% believe promoting themselves and their services is very important. 69% rely on in-person networking, 62% on their website or online portfolio and 51% on social media content and online networking.(2)
The majority of findings reveal that freelancers are happier and healthier than traditional workers. They also say they enjoy a better work-life balance than they had with traditional work.
68% of new freelancers say that “career ownership” is a top motivator and 54% see remote working as their key driver.(4)
Among skilled freelancers, 78% find “schedule flexibility” a key motivator, 73% “location flexibility”, and 73% the ability to pursue meaningful work.(4)
Freelancers worldwide express greater job satisfaction and would not return to traditional employment.
63% of U.S. freelancers prefer this way of working over traditional employment.4 And 84% of French and German freelancers wouldn’t return to a corporate job.(17)
The freelance platform market growth rate is expected to reach 15.3% by 2026.(16)
Small to Medium-size Enterprises (SMEs) will most likely be the ones hiring freelancers. According to the World Bank, though both large and small businesses hire freelancers, 90% of businesses worldwide are SMEs and account for 50% of global employment.8 Even though SMEs were greatly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, in March 2020, Payoneer already saw a 33% increase in U.S. based SME registrations on their platform to pay international freelancers.(3)
The creator economy seems especially alluring right now, with 7.1 million Americans earning money as a creator in 2020 and 3.2 million expect to join them by 2022.9 In 2021, U.S. creator startups received an estimated 3.7 billion in funding and that amount is expected to grow.(13)
Collaboration is also a key trend. More freelancers overall are teaming up with other freelancers or small businesses. 19% of freelancers created collaborations in 2020 and 25% in 2021.(9)
In 2021, 56% of non-freelancers said they would consider freelance work in the future.(4)
Freelancers are optimistic people.
When Payoneer surveyed freelancers on their platform in March 2020, 53% expected demand to increase in the future. And they were right. In a followup survey, demand started to increase in June of the same year with a 28% jump.(3)
67% of U.S. freelancers have a positive career outlook for 2022, while 58% of non-freelancers view 2022 positively for their careers.(4)
58% don’t see AI or job automation a threat, 34% remain uncertain, and 8% are concerned.(2)
Only 6% of people surveyed in a recent Fiverr survey say that freelancing is temporary. Of the remaining 94% of freelancers:
Like any job, freelancing has its drawbacks. All freelance statistics report similar challenges such as:
Let’s look at each one.
Uncertainty is the main challenge for freelancers as they try to find balance between maintaining a flexible work schedule and dealing with the ebbs and flows of incoming projects.
Not being paid on time (or at all)
Surprisingly, 44% of freelancers of all income levels have reported not being paid for a job, citing stigmatisation (60%) and a general lack of respect for freelancers as the main reasons.(2) Men report not being paid more than women.
European freelancers find the lack of timely payments one of their main pain points.(17)
Freelancers also underestimate themselves. In a Peak Freelance earnings survey, the majority of freelance writers undersell their work, with more than half reporting average income under 30K per year.
However, wisdom comes with age and earnings increase with years of experience.
Similarly, European freelancers find negotiation of their rates and terms a main challenge.
Self-management and Admin
Another common hurdle for freelancers is balancing their work and administrative duties. Good time management is essential to find clients while working on projects.(10) Freelancers also have to deal with financial obligations such as business expenses and social security, which traditional employees leave to their employers.
61% of freelancers say they miss the feeling of community, which they once had when they were dependent workers.(2)
Freelancers also don’t feel confident about their networking abilities or forming solid business relationships.(10)
88% of freelance tech workers would like to feel more connected with their full-time coworkers. This is especially true of 86% of tech sole traders surveyed in Australia. (29)
Finally, freelancers feel underrepresented in society. For example, 55% of French and Spanish freelancers say they have difficulty in obtaining loans or guarantees for housing as a result of their self-employment, which is considered unreliable by banks and institutions.(17)
When asked about globalisation, 71% see it as an opportunity to grow their business.(2)
Areas of improvement in freelancing include building community and having more software tools to help them manage their business.(2)
Not surprisingly, freelancers already use a variety of technologies to support them in their business management.(2)
Mono Solutions noticed an opportunity to leverage freelancers as resellers of digital products. 61% of freelancers often suggest software and digital products to their clients, though only 16% have a reseller relationship with software companies.(5)
Freelancers have an opportunity to increase their income through promoting content they already use. Those that currently do are satisfied with the setup.
Another recent survey sheds light on the growing talent shortage worldwide and how companies will use remote and freelance workers to fill these gaps.(21)
For example, freelancers provide a golden opportunity for companies struggling to find talented knowledge workers(6):
The global freelance market size for online platforms in 2020 reached $3393.5 million and is projected to increase to $9192.9 million by 2027.(16)
There are an estimated 1.3 billion freelancers worldwide. Freelancers also play a part in the gig economy, which is expected to grow to $455 billion by 2023.
Forecasters expect the freelance growth rate to continue. Freelancing statistics in 2021 showed that U.S. freelancers make up 35% of the country’s total workforce16 and is expected to grow to 50.9% of the total U.S. workforce by 2027.(1)
Precise freelance website statistics are lacking due to a highly fragmented market that varies across nations and languages. One expert estimates there are between 800-1000 freelance websites worldwide.(24) The Online Labour Index (OLI) reports a 90% growth of online projects from 2016 to 2021 and this number is expected to grow.(7)
Freelancers made up 36% of the U.S. workforce in 2020 and remained stable throughout in 2021, contributing 1.3 trillion dollars to the economy.(4)
Data varies on the number of millennial freelancers. Upwork’s survey shows millennials occupying 44% of the U.S. freelance market(1), while The State of Independence Report says millennials make up 34% of the current U.S. freelance workforce.(9)
The most in-demand freelance jobs are in tech, specifically programmers, developers, engineers, data scientists, and software creators.
Upwork doesn’t share its freelance numbers. However, it’s one of the biggest online platforms with $502.8 million in revenue in 2021 and 35% in year-over-year growth.(4)
According to Techcrunch, there were approximately 830,000 freelancers on Fiverr in 2019.(25) Today, more than 4.2 million clients use Fiverr freelance services.
Don’t expect to make big money right away. Most freelancers choose this lifestyle for the freedom and flexibility rather than the monetary gains. Only 7% of freelancers say they chose this type of work for financial reasons.
The average U.S. hourly freelance rate is $28, which is higher than the average hourly rate of 70% of the U.S. workforce. However, freelance earnings depend on your industry, skill level, and years of experience. For example, specialised freelancers make more money than their unskilled counterparts and freelance writers earn more after their first year.
These freelance economy statistics provide an optimistic outlook on freelancing. Whether you’re a freelancer, or you design products for freelancers, or plan to do either one, know that the future of freelance is still in the making and everyone can play a role in defining its shape.