Women Still Ask for Less: Hourly Rates in the Online Marketplace

IPR associate Elizabeth Gerber finds women bill less than men in the gig economy

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Fewer women than men participate in the labor force, and the ones who do earn less on average than their male coworkers. But do these labor-market and wage gaps still hold in the gig economy?

Through online platforms such as Upwork and Amazon's Mechanical Turk, women can bid on millions of short-term jobs that can be performed when and where they want—offering the flexibility that women with children often seek.

Mechanical engineer and IPR associate Elizabeth Gerber and her colleagues investigate if the gig economy helps to mitigate the gender pay gap. They examine data for 48,019 workers in the United States on Upwork, one of the world’s largest online labor marketplaces. 

The researchers discover that the median woman on Upwork billed 74 percent of what the median man did. Women asked for $35 per hour, while men requested $46 per hour.

This difference persisted when Gerber and her colleagues controlled for job category, work experience, and level of education, with women charging $6.28 less on average for their hourly billing rate. 

Women’s total earnings, however, were slightly higher than what men earned overall. Women earned $1,386 in median hourly revenue, while men earned $1,278. To reach these earnings, women had to work almost 49 hours, while men worked just 32.5 hours.

These results suggest that the cost of the Upwork hourly rate gap for women might not be money, but time. 

“Women on Upwork are not selling products, they are selling their time,” the researchers wrote. “More hours worked, therefore, equates to less time available for other pursuits.”

Elizabeth Gerber is associate professor of mechanical engineering and an IPR associate.