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Ruth Milkman

Research Findings

Old wine in new bottles: gender and the gig economy

October 15, 2020

Luke Elliott-Negri, Kathleen Griesbach, Adam Reich and I began studying platform-based food delivery in 2018. Like many labor scholars, we were fascinated by the exploding gig economy and its impact on workers. In late 2018 and early 2019 we conducted Facebook surveys with 955 platform-based food delivery workers, followed by in-depth interviews with 55 of them. 

Our data were collected well before the COVID-19 pandemic sparked an explosion of demand for all sorts of home delivery, even as it widened pre-existing gender and class inequalities. Those developments only add to the significance of our findings. 

We did not start the project with a gender focus, but we quickly learned that working-class women dominate this sector of the gig economy. About three-fourths of our survey respondents (and a similar proportion of interviewees) were female, and mostly white. This should not have been a surprise, but for us it was, maybe because we live in New York City, which has a far longer tradition of food delivery – mostly performed by immigrant men – than the rest of the U.S.

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