Earnings: Is there a fair return for time and assets applied? Many studies tried to estimate earnings, or at least ask individuals how they felt about the earnings they received.  Some assessments were positive, compared to alternatives in other sectors, compared to non-platformed versions of the same work, or compared to the abstraction of ‘enough’. But negative assessments of earnings were somewhat more frequent, often appearing in the same studies that shared positive assessments.  Many reported earnings that were low or unstable. Some were frustrated by high competition, uncompensated time, dropped or missing earnings, and the share of the fee taken by the platform.

Find references for this section at the bottom of this page or see the PDF for in-text citations.

There were more discussions of earnings amongst the studies than of any other element. Many assessments of earnings were positive, and many of those were comparative. 

One approach was to compare earnings to something else. Microworkers (Anwar and Graham 2019; Berg 2016; Soriano and Panaligan 2019) and freelancers (Soriano and Panaligan 2019; Crosby and Cahaya 2017; Graham, Hjorth, and Lehdonvirta 2017) suggested work was better than alternatives they could find locally. Zollmann and Wanjala (2020) note that in Kenya, boda-boda (motorcycle) drivers earn more than might be expected, on par with an office worker. Freelancing pays better than average GDP per capita in the Philippines and India (Beerepoot and Lambregts 2015), better than average entry-level graduate jobs in local African labor markets (Malik et al. 2020), or at least well above minimum wages (Muhindi 2019). Driving and logistics pay better than call center work in Cambodia (Jack, Chen, and Jackson 2017). 

Another approach was to compare earnings to what people could earn (or did earn) in the same profession, but outside the platform system. For ride hailing in Bangladesh (Kumar, Jafarinaimi, and Bin Morshed 2018) and in Indonesia, some were happy with the higher wages than they were earning before joining a platform (Budiman 2020; Nastiti 2017; Wisana et al. 2017). In Uganda and Nigeria, drivers reported earning 25% more than they did in the informal sector, and 50% more once they purchased their own car (Gachoka and Winiecki 2020). In the markets for local services in Kenya and South Africa, there were similar dynamics (Hunt et al. 2019), and the chance to earn more money in the same profession was the reason for switching to such work among participants in one study in India (Aneja and Sridhar 2019). 

A third approach was to report that earnings were sufficient in an absolute sense—“economically important” (Lehdonvirta 2016), or enough for everyday expenses, food, or travel (Martin et al. 2016; Onkokame, Schoentgen, and Gillwald 2018). One study of the labor, logistics, and ridesharing sectors in Kenya noted that participants earned enough to pay for daycare, food, rent, clothes, and other essentials (Kibe 2020) or for saving to invest in other things (Malik, Nicholson, and Heeks 2018). 

Beyond comparisons, other positive sub-themes in earnings focused on how money could be made (rather than how much). Beauty workers in India, part of the trades and services sector, stressed that they preferred the ways in which they were able to earn on platforms commensurate to their efforts, per job, instead of receiving a fixed wage regardless of the number of clients they might serve in a salon setting ((Raval and Pal 2019) echoed in (Surie 2020)). Drivers in Colombia were happy with the work as a part-time augmentation, allowing them to earn extra money on the side (Reilly and Lozano-Paredes 2019). Some microworkers liked how earnings were predictable (D’Cruz and Noronha 2016). Some in services and ride hailing liked how platforms paid earnings more frequently (Surie and Koduganti 2016). And finally, in a critical intersection with themes of gender and agency, some reported that simply earning money via online freelancing and microwork creates independence from husbands and families (Aneja and Sridhar 2019). 

However, negative assessments of earnings were somewhat more frequent, often appearing in the same studies that shared positive assessments. 

One approach was to note, in passing or in detail, that earnings were simply low. This impression surfaced among local service workers in China (B. Chen et al. 2020), India (Aneja and Sridhar 2019), Kenya and South Africa (Hunt et al. 2019); among microworkers (Martin et al. 2016; Anwar and Graham 2019; Rani and Furrer 2019), and among freelancers in the Philippines (Tintiangko and Soriano 2020). In microwork, these wages were low enough that microworkers rely on family for shelter and support (Berg 2016). One study suggested that microwork earnings in Nepal were lower than those of house servants (Lehdonvirta 2018). Some platform workers and platform entrepreneurs note that they were not paid commensurate to their skills (Martin et al. 2016; Berg et al. 2018).

Comparisons to off-platform earnings were not always as rosy as those described above. Studies in China of delivery and ride hailing suggest lower average earnings than those off-platform in similar roles (J. Y. Chen, Sun, and Qiu 2020), and in Indonesia, drivers earned less than minimum wage once expenses were accounted for (Nastiti 2017). 

In some cases, platform workers and entrepreneurs are acutely aware of a downward pressure on earnings due to increased competition from other workers (S. Gupta 2020). This is particularly the case in international markets for microwork (Graham, Hjorth, and Lehdonvirta 2017) and freelancing (Graham, Hjorth, and Lehdonvirta 2017; Malik et al. 2020; Wood and Lehdonvirta 2019; Wood et al. 2019a), where some are uncomfortable asking for more, always aware of what someone in a lower-income region might charge (Anwar and Graham 2020).

Uncompensated time and investments are frustrating in several ways. First, many expressed stress or frustration resulting from inauthentic clients or technical glitches; this was apparent in local labor (Zollmann and Wanjala 2020; S. Gupta 2020), microwork (N. Gupta et al. 2014; Panteli, Rapti, and Scholarios 2020), freelancing (Melia 2020), and ride hailing (Zade and O’Neill 2016). 

Even when things do not go wrong, they are not necessarily right. Some stressed how searching for work (or traveling to work) is uncompensated, with expenses falling on the worker/vendor in microwork (Gray and Suri 2019; D’Cruz and Noronha 2016; Wood et al. 2019b), freelancing (Muhindi 2019; D’Cruz and Noronha 2016), ride hailing (Geitung 2017) and services (Hunt et al. 2019; Aneja and Sridhar 2019; Garcia et al. 2020; Krishna 2020; Kiarie, Singh, and Obiko 2020). So is extra time spent to deliver great service and build loyalty (Raval and Pal 2019), and the slow build to get established and get first paying clients (Anwar and Graham 2019; Genesis Analytics 2019). Obvious but worth stating—car maintenance and fuel are inputs paid by drivers (Mare, Chiumbu, and Mpofu 2020), as are traffic fines (J. Y. Chen 2018).

In the mirror image of the reliability element described above, some reported that earnings were unstable, varying per month for online MSEs (B. Chen et al. 2020) and local labor (Hunt et al. 2019). 

Some were aware of the size of the platform cut: 15% for drivers (Mare, Chiumbu, and Mpofu 2020) and creating conditions like a “sweatshop” for freelancers (Wood and Lehdonvirta 2019).

In all, there is a mix of positive and negative sentiments expressed about earnings, depending on what they are compared to, on expectations, and on industry sector and country. That said, it is worth noting how infrequently these assertions were accompanied by quantification, as many of these studies were qualitative. When they are quantified, it is possible to discern patterns and perhaps an intersectional downward pressure on earnings by region and gender. For example, one ILO study estimated microwork wages at $4.43 an hour, $3.21 when unpaid time searching was included, and $1.33 an hour for the same work among microworkers in Africa (Berg et al. 2018). Another analysis of freelancing finds a pay gap for women (Dubey et al. 2017). For further comparative analyses see Wood et al (2019a) and Muhindi (2019). 


Aneja, Urvashi, and Aishwarya Sridhar. 2019. “Show Me the Money! Worker Well­Being on Labor Platforms in India.” Delhi: IT for Change. https://itforchange.net/platformpolitics/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Platform_Politick_ShowMeTheMoney.pdf.

Anwar, Mohammad Amir, and Mark Graham. 2019. “Hidden Transcripts of the Gig Economy: Labour Agency and the New Art of Resistance among African Gig Workers:” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, December. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0308518X19894584.

———. 2020. “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Freedom, Flexibility, Precarity and Vulnerability in the Gig Economy in Africa.” Competition & Change, April, 102452942091447. https://doi.org/10.1177/1024529420914473.

Beerepoot, Niels, and Bart Lambregts. 2015. “Competition in Online Job Marketplaces: Towards a Global Labour Market for Outsourcing Services?” Global Networks 15 (2): 236–55. https://doi.org/10.1111/glob.12051.

Berg, Janine. 2016. “Income Security in the On-Demand Economy: Findings and Policy Lessons from a Survey of Crowdworkers.” ILO Working Paper 74. Conditions of Work and Employment Series. Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour Organization. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_protect/—protrav/—travail/documents/publication/wcms_479693.pdf.

Berg, Janine, Marianne Furrer, Ellie Harmon, Uma Rani, and M Six Silberman. 2018. “Digital Labour Platforms and the Future of Work: Towards Decent Work in the Online World.” Geneva: International Labour Office (ILO). https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_645337.pdf.

Budiman, Bido. 2020. “Ride-Hailing: Stories from Gojek and Grab Drivers in Indonesia.” CGAP Background Documents. https://www.findevgateway.org/sites/default/files/users/user331/Financial-Inclusion-Story-of-Ride-Hailing-Stories-from-Gojek-and-Grab-Drivers-in-Indonesia.pdf.

Chen, Bin, Tao Liu, Lin Guo, and Zhenglin Xie. 2020. “The Disembedded Digital Economy: Social Protection for New Economy Employment in China.” Social Policy & Administration n/a (n/a). https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12603.

Chen, Julie Yujie. 2018. “Thrown under the Bus and Outrunning It! The Logic of Didi and Taxi Drivers’ Labour and Activism in the on-Demand Economy.” New Media & Society 20 (8): 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444817729149.

Chen, Julie Yujie, Sophie Ping Sun, and Jack Linchuan Qiu. 2020. “Deliver on the Promise of the Platform Economy.” Bengaluru, India: IT for Change. https://itforchange.net/platformpolitics/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/China-Research-Report.pdf.

Crosby, A. L., and R. Cahaya. 2017. “The Lure of the City, the Possibilities of the Village: Crowdsourcing Graphic Designers in Indonesia.” In , 255–59. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Design Institute and Cumulus International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design and Media. https://opus.lib.uts.edu.au/handle/10453/94623.

D’Cruz, Premilla, and Ernesto Noronha. 2016. “Positives Outweighing Negatives: The Experiences of Indian Crowdsourced Workers.” Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation 10 (1): 44–63. https://doi.org/10.13169/workorgalaboglob.10.1.0044.

Dubey, Alpana, Kumar Abhinav, Mary Hamilton, and Alex Kass. 2017. “Analyzing Gender Pay Gap in Freelancing Marketplace.” In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM SIGMIS Conference on Computers and People Research, 13–19. SIGMIS-CPR ’17. Bangalore, India: Association for Computing Machinery. https://doi.org/10.1145/3084381.3084402.

Gachoka, Anne, and Jacob Winiecki. 2020. “Assessing the Impact of Tech-Enabled Urban Mobility.” Boston, MA: Shell Foundation and BFA Global. https://bfaglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Shell-Foundation_BFA_SafeBoda_MAX_Impact.pdf.

Garcia, Liza, Teresita Barrameda, Jessamine Pacis, and Arlen Sandino Barrameda. 2020. “Digitization and Domestic Work: The Policy Environment in the Philippines.” Bengaluru, India: IT for Change. https://itforchange.net/platformpolitics/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Philippines-Research-Report.pdf.

Geitung, Ine. 2017. “Uber Drivers in Cape Town: Working Conditions and Worker Agency in the Sharing Economy.” MA Thesis, University of Oslo. https://www.duo.uio.no/bitstream/handle/10852/60423/MA-Geitung.pdf?sequence=1.

Genesis Analytics. 2019. “Towards a Digital Workforce: Understanding the Building Blocks of Kenya’s Gig Economy.” Mercy Corps Youth Impact Labs. https://www.mercycorps.org/sites/default/files/2020-01/Youth_Impact_Labs_Kenya_Gig_Economy_Report_2019_1.pdf.

Graham, Mark, Isis Hjorth, and Vili Lehdonvirta. 2017. “Digital Labour and Development: Impacts of Global Digital Labour Platforms and the Gig Economy on Worker Livelihoods.” Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research 23 (2): 135–62. https://doi.org/10.1177/1024258916687250.

Gray, Mary L, and Siddharth Suri. 2019. Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Gupta, Neha, David Martin, Benjamin V. Hanrahan, and Jacki O’Neill. 2014. “Turk-Life in India.” In Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Supporting Group Work – GROUP ’14, 1–11. Sanibel Island, Florida, USA: ACM Press. https://doi.org/10.1145/2660398.2660403.

Gupta, Shruti. 2020. “Gendered Gigs: Understanding the Gig Economy in New Delhi from a Gendered Perspective.” In Proceedings of the 2020 International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, 1–10. ICTD2020. New York, NY: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/3392561.3394635.

Hunt, Abigail, Emma Samman, Sherry Tapfuma, Grace Mwaura, Rhoda Omenya, Kay Kim, Sara Stevano, and Aida Roumer. 2019. “Women in the Gig Economy: Paid Work, Care and Flexibility in Kenya and South Africa.” London, UK: Overseas Development Institute. https://data2x.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/WomenintheGigEconomy_ODI.pdf.

Jack, Margaret, Jay Chen, and Steven J. Jackson. 2017. “Infrastructure as Creative Action: Online Buying, Selling, and Delivery in Phnom Penh.” In Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 6511–6522. CHI ’17. Denver, Colorado, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. https://doi.org/10.1145/3025453.3025889.

Kiarie, Nancy, Anup Singh, and Edward Obiko. 2020. “Same Problems, Same Inequalities: Women in the Digital Gig Economy.” Microsave Blog (blog). March 11, 2020. https://www.microsave.net/2020/03/11/same-problems-same-inequalities-women-in-the-digital-gig-economy/.

Kibe, Josephine. 2020. “How Are Kenya’s Youth Experiencing the Gig Economy?” May 28, 2020. https://www.cgap.org/blog/how-are-kenyas-youth-experiencing-gig-economy.

Krishna , Shyam. 2020. “The Role of a Gig-Worker during Crisis: Consequences of COVID19 on Food Delivery Workers in South India.” IFIP 9.4 Blog (blog). April 13, 2020. https://ifip94.wordpress.com/2020/04/13/the-role-of-a-gig-worker-during-crisis-consequences-of-covid19-on-food-deliver-workers-in-south-india/.

Kumar, Neha, Nassim Jafarinaimi, and Mehrab Bin Morshed. 2018. “Uber in Bangladesh: The Tangled Web of Mobility and Justice.” Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 2 (CSCW): 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1145/3274367.

Lehdonvirta, Vili. 2016. “Algorithms That Divide and Unite: Delocalization, Identity, and Collective Action in ‘Microwork.’” In Space, Place and Global Digital Work, edited by J. Flecker, 53–81. London: Palgrave-Macmillan.

———. 2018. “Flexibility in the Gig Economy: Managing Time on Three Online Piecework Platforms.” New Technology, Work and Employment 33 (1): 13–29. https://doi.org/10.1111/ntwe.12102.

Malik, Fareesa, Richard Heeks, Silvia Masiero, and Brian Nicholson. 2020. “Digital Platform Labour in Pakistan: Institutional Voids and Solidarity Networks,” June. https://repository.lboro.ac.uk/articles/conference_contribution/Digital_platform_labour_in_Pakistan_Institutional_voids_and_solidarity_networks/12520100.

Malik, Fareesa, Brian Nicholson, and Richard Heeks. 2018. “Understanding the Development Implications of Online Outsourcing: A Study of Digital Labour Platforms in Pakistan.” Development Informatics Working Paper 73. Manchester, UK: Global Development Institute, SEED. http://hummedia.manchester.ac.uk/institutes/gdi/publications/workingpapers/di/di_wp73.pdf.

Mare, Admire, Sarah Chiumbu, and Shepherd Mpofu. 2020. “Investigating Labor Policy Frameworks for Ride-Hailing Platforms.” IT for Change. https://itforchange.net/platformpolitics/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/South-Africa-PDF.pdf.

Martin, David, Jacki O’Neill, Neha Gupta, and Benjamin V. Hanrahan. 2016. “Turking in a Global Labour Market.” Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) 25 (1): 39–77. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10606-015-9241-6.

Melia, Elvis. 2020. “African Jobs in the Digital Era: Export Options with a Focus on Online Labour.” Discussion Paper. https://doi.org/10.23661/DP3.2020.

Muhindi, Abas Ben. 2019. “Towards Decent Work On Online Labour Platforms: Implications Of Working Conditions In Online Freelance Work On The Well Being Of Youths In Nairobi County.” MA thesis, University of Nairobi. http://erepository.uonbi.ac.ke/handle/11295/109681.

Nastiti, Aulia D. 2017. “Worker Unrest and Contentious Labor Practice of Ride-Hailing Services in Indonesia 1.” In Arryman Symposium. Jakarta: Buffett Institute, Northwestern University. https://www.edgs.northwestern.edu/documents/2017-nastiti—arryman-paper,-evanston-symposium,-may-13.pdf.

Onkokame, Mothobi, Aude Schoentgen, and Alison Gillwald. 2018. “What Is the State of Microwork in Africa? A View from Seven Countries.” Cape Town, South Africa: Research ICT Africa. https://researchictafrica.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/After-Access_The-state-of-microwork-in-Africa.pdf.

Panteli, Niki, Andriana Rapti, and Dora Scholarios. 2020. “‘If He Just Knew Who We Were’: Microworkers’ Emerging Bonds of Attachment in a Fragmented Employment Relationship.” Work, Employment and Society 34 (3). https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017019897872.

Rani, Uma, and Marianne Furrer. 2019. “On-Demand Digital Economy: Can Experience Ensure Work and Income Security for Microtask Workers?” Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher Fuer Nationaloekonomie Und Statistik) 239 (3): 565–97. https://ideas.repec.org/a/jns/jbstat/v239y2019i3p565-597n6.html.

Raval, Noopur, and Joyojeet Pal. 2019. “Making a ‘Pro’: ‘Professionalism’ after Platforms in Beauty-Work.” Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 3 (CSCW): 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1145/3359277.

Reilly, Katherine M. A., and Luis H. Lozano-Paredes. 2019. “Ride Hailing Regulations in Cali, Colombia: Towards Autonomous and Decent Work.” In Information and Communication Technologies for Development. Strengthening Southern-Driven Cooperation as a Catalyst for ICT4D, edited by Petter Nielsen and Honest Christopher Kimaro, 425–35. IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-18400-1_35.

Soriano, Cheryll Ruth, and C. Joy Hanna Panaligan. 2019. “Skill-Makers’ in the Platform Economy.” In Digital Transactions in Asia: Economic, Informational, and Social Exchanges. Routledge.

Surie, Aditi. 2020. “On-Demand Platforms and Pricing: How Platforms Can Impact the Informal Urban Economy, Evidence from Bengaluru, India.” Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation 14 (1): 83–100. https://doi.org/10.13169/workorgalaboglob.14.1.0083.

Surie, Aditi, and Jyothi Koduganti. 2016. “The Emerging Nature of Work in Platform Economy Companies in Bengaluru, India: The Case of Uber and Ola Cab Drivers.” E-Journal of International and Comparative Labour Studies 5 (3). http://ejcls.adapt.it/index.php/ejcls_adapt/article/view/224.

Tintiangko, Jeremy, and Cheryll Ruth Soriano. 2020. “Coworking Spaces in the Global South: Local Articulations and Imaginaries.” Journal of Urban Technology 27 (1): 67–85. https://doi.org/10.1080/10630732.2019.1696144.

Wisana, Dewa, Inaya Rakhmani, Alfindra Primaldhi, Primaldhi Walandouw, Aditya Nugroho, and Turro Wongkaren. 2017. “GO-JEK Impact towards Indonesian Economy.” Jakarta. GO-JEK-Impact-towards-Indonesian-Economy.pdf.

Wood, Alex J, Mark Graham, Vili Lehdonvirta, and Isis Hjorth. 2019a. “Good Gig, Bad Gig: Autonomy and Algorithmic Control in the Global Gig Economy.” Work, Employment and Society 33 (1): 56–75. https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017018785616.

———. 2019b. “Networked but Commodified: The (Dis)Embeddedness of Digital Labour in the Gig Economy.” Sociology 53 (5): 931–50. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038519828906.

Wood, Alex J., and Vili Lehdonvirta. 2019. “Platform Labour and Structured Antagonism: Understanding the Origins of Protest in the Gig Economy.” SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 3357804. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3357804.

Zade, Himanshu, and Jacki E. O’Neill. 2016. “Design Illustrations to Make Adoption of Ola Technology More Beneficial for Indian Auto-Rickshaw Drivers.” In Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing Companion – CSCW ’16 Companion, 453–56. San Francisco, California, USA: ACM Press. https://doi.org/10.1145/2818052.2869131.

Zollmann, Julie, and Catherine Wanjala. 2020. “What Is Good Work? Perspectives of Young Workers in Nairobi.” Text report and accompanying slides. Nairobi, Kenya: The Mastercard Foundation. https://www.juliezollmann.com/are-new-jobs-good.