Independent work: Not a young person’s game?


Asked to picture the phenomenon sometimes called the gig economy or freelance nation, many people would probably imagine the relatively young and hip, toting their laptops to coffee shops and coworking spaces in particular urban hotspots. But are tattooed and youthful designers, developers and writers in places like Austin and Brooklyn really the heart of the trend towards increased independent work?

Not according to new research conducted by independent work consultancy MBO Partners released today. MBO defines independent workers as those “who work at least 15 hours a week in nontraditional, non-permanent full or part-time employment and self-identify as consultants, freelancers, contractors, self-employed.” Using a pair of surveys to study this sector, MBO uncovered some unexpected facts that show independent work is not just a young person’s game. Nearly five million Baby Boomers make up 30 percent of this workforce and, according to MBO, they’re thriving more than younger freelancers:

  • Most Boomers (59 percent) actively chose to become independent.
  • Of all those working independently they are among the most satisfied. 85 percent report satisfaction and 70 percent report high satisfaction, versus 58 percent for all age groups combined.
  • They’ve done well as independents. The average income of the Boomer independent is $77,000.
  • The vast majority of Boomers plan to continue work in the independent workforce over the next three years — only 8 percent plan to seek a traditional job.

These happy Boomer independents told MBO they enjoyed working solo for a number of less than surprising reasons, including the freedom and flexibility and ability to do work they consider meaningful. The research also found, however, that the particular struggles of older workers during the Great Recession played a role in pushing many towards independence “The Great Recession has resulted in a very weak traditional job market for aging Boomers. For many Boomers, going independent is their best or sometimes only job option,” concludes the report.

But while the troubled economic times may have driven some older professionals towards independent work, the statistics show that by and large they’re pleased to have made the switch. “In the face of recent financial uncertainty and a tumultuous job market, many in the Boomer generation have turned adversity into opportunity and taken charge of their lives by working independently,” said Gene Zaino, CEO of MBO Partners. In fact, 36 percent of Boomers actually feel more secure working independently.

All in all, the research paints a cheerful picture of Boomer independents and predicts that more workers in this demographic will make the shift. “About 8 million boomers are interested in going solo over the next two years,” according to MBO, which predicts “that roughly 1.2 million will actually make the jump to independent work,” within that time frame.

Does this report mesh with your experience — are Boomers in particular satisfied with the gig lifestyle and, if so, why do you think this is? 

Image courtesy of Flickr user Global X.

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