Work, stress, and dignity in the gig economy

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2021-05

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In the past decade, the gig economy has grown to be an increasingly significant segment of the labor market. Though there has been increased research working conditions in the gig economy, the link between gig work and health has yet to be assessed. Drawing on data from an original nationwide survey of gig workers and 45 in-depth interviews with gig workers, I explore how gig work is linked to health in three different ways: 1) whether and how disabled gig workers are selected into the gig economy, 2) how schedules and working conditions in the gig economy shape mental health outcomes, and 3) how gig workers make sense of downward mobility into the gig economy. In Chapter 3, quantitative analyses indicate that disabled workers are significantly more likely to do gig work full-time than workers without a disability. Interview data reveal the factors pushing and pulling disabled workers into the gig economy. Together the data demonstrate how workers with a personal or family health issue turn to gig work in the context of weak labor and welfare protections. In Chapter 4, I draw on survey data and find that schedule variation, worrying about rating, and worrying about demand are a significant predictors of work-life conflict and poor health. This research demonstrates the importance of examining algorithmic insecurity as a dimension of precarity that affects health. In Chapter 5, I on the cultural frameworks that gig workers use to make sense of their experiences of gig work. While many gig workers engage in individualist narratives that emphasize their independence, older White gig workers were unique in the way they talked about gig work. They disparaged other gig workers as irresponsible and lazy and constructed their journey into gig work as part of a therapeutic transformation. I suggest that previously gig workers in positions of dominant status perceive their downward mobility as a threat to their dignity and status. Altogether, I argue that the gig economy is a stop gap for structural failures of the U.S. labor market and welfare system, and one that makes already vulnerable workers susceptible to poor working conditions and worse health.

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