Youth: A new way of working? The studies suggest that platform livelihoods skew towards youth, explained in part by digital literacy and ICT use. But the transitory, fragmented nature of many young people’s early interactions with the workplace fit well with platform livelihoods. This demands further scrutiny: are platform livelihoods a ‘new normal’ for youth or is it a life stage?

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Like rurality, employment opportunities for the youth is a matter of widespread concern in the development community. And, while it is probably not a surprise to most readers that platform livelihoods skew toward the youth, it’s worth examining the issue in slightly more detail. 

Some portray the youth skew in terms of average age; for example, in microwork (Anwar and Graham 2020), the average age was 33.2 years across a 75-country sample of microworkers (Berg et al. 2018) and in delivery and logistics in China (Chen, Sun, and Qiu 2020), likely tracking the inclusion elements of smartphone/internet use and digital literacy.

Indeed, digital literacy and savviness can be a useful frame, e.g., in understanding why SMMEs with younger managers who have international exposure and experience with E-commerce were found to be more engaged and enthusiastic about E-commerce (Kabanda and Matsinhe 2019), or why the youth are “drivers of ICT adoption” (Onkokame, Schoentgen, and Gillwald 2018). There might even be an influence of demand as, for example, in the case of personal shopping in China, where predominantly young shoppers are acting as agents on behalf of predominantly young buyers (Chen, Sun, and Qiu 2020).

Another approach centers on the transitory, fragmented nature of many young people’s early interactions with the workplace. Some are “making do” part-time while in school, or full-time before they find a more permanent job (Muhindi 2019; Onkokame, Schoentgen, and Gillwald 2018). However, this leads to additional questions that are still not well-explored. Are platform livelihoods the “new normal” for youth—an emerging steady-state that will stay with them as they age, or is it a life stage that people will endeavor to move out of? The “future of work” will be partly determined by how this is answered, by sector and by region.


Anwar, Mohammad Amir, and Mark Graham. 2020. “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Freedom, Flexibility, Precarity and Vulnerability in the Gig Economy in Africa.” Competition & Change, April, 102452942091447.

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).—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_645337.pdf.

Chen, Julie Yujie, Sophie Ping Sun, and Jack Linchuan Qiu. 2020. “Deliver on the Promise of the Platform Economy.” Bengaluru, India: IT for Change.

Kabanda, Salah, and Fernanda Matsinhe. 2019. “Contextualist Inquiry into E-Commerce Institutionalization in Developing Countries: The Case of Mozambican Women-Led SMMEs.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge and Management 14 (January): 325–42.

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.

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.