Income inequality is a relatively under-explored issue in current debates surrounding the sharing economy. This study by Juliet Schor aims to shed light on how activity on three for-profit platforms – Airbnb, Turo (formerly RelayRides) and TaskRabbit – affects income distribution within the bottom 80 per cent of the population.

Informed by in-depth interviews with 43 providers, the study suggests that more income and employment opportunity is being shifted to better-off households. Examining the demographic characteristics, earnings and content of the work being done, the study finds that most providers are highly educated, with other sources of income, and engage in activities that have have traditionally been blue and pink collar tasks.

Study highlights and key findings:

  • Most providers in the sample participated on platforms to earn extra income on top of their full-time earnings, not because of unemployment or precarity. This means that platforms could result in increased inequality by adding to the incomes of high earners rather than just substituting for off-platform earnings.
  • Most providers are highly educated, white-collar workers taking on manual work that has traditionally been done by people without college degrees. Most providers were also racially “white” and native-born, in contrast to the people of colour and immigrants who disproportionately do similar work in the conventional economy.

The findings in this paper are part of a larger program of research on the sharing economy, which has been funded by the MacArthur Foundation on ‘Connected Consumption’.