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Millennials Prefer Freelancing, Study Says

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I’ve been given a sneak peek at a study that will be released Tuesday by online freelance jobs marketplace Elance entitled The Millennial Survey: New Attitudes Towards Finding Jobs and Working in Today’s Market. It investigates the attitudes of “millennials” (also known as Generation Y, and often defined as those born between 1982 and 2001) to work, their careers and job searching. Perhaps the most interesting finding in the study is how positive the millennials surveyed are about freelancing as a career choice. The vast majority of respondents — 83 percent — said freelancing is an important part of their career strategy, while only 27 percent indicated they would prefer working full-time for a single employer instead of freelancing.

Source: Elance

It should be noted that because this study is the result of an online survey conducted on the Elance site itself, there will likely be considerable selection bias distorting the results towards freelancing, so it would be wise to take these  findings with a pinch of salt. I doubt that a more wide-ranging survey of recent college graduates, for example, would show such an overwhelming number of respondents in favor of freelancing over traditional employment.

While some people may argue that freelancing has only become more popular as jobs have become harder to come by following the economic downturn, the Elance study shows that many millennials actually choose freelancing over traditional employment. Only 27 percent indicated they would prefer to work as an employee, while 42 percent stated they prefer the freelance lifestyle. Web working is popular, too, with 54 percent saying they plan to telecommute at least some of the time — a lifestyle choice probably made easier by freelancing. It seems freelancing is making these millennials happier: 53 percent say they are happier when freelancing than when working as an employee. Encouragingly, despite a somewhat weak jobs market, particularly for younger people with less experience, 78 percent of respondents said they were either “Optimistic” or “Very optimistic” about their chosen career path.

Source: Elance

The study also looked at millennials’ job search habits. Unsurprisingly, many respondents reported they use online methods to find work. Online job ads ( (s mww) and Craigslist, for example) were popular with 94 percent of respondents, but social media (Facebook, LinkedIn) was also used by 40 percent. The study also shows that 56 percent of respondents think that a digital resume (a LinkedIn profile, for instance) is the most effective tool for landing a job, compared to 44 percent who prefer a more traditional resume.

Despite the selection bias that’s probably skewing these results, it’s interesting to see such a positive attitude towards freelancing in younger people. Attitudes toward freelancing have shifted over the past few years, with many more people now prepared to consider it as a long-term career choice. It’s a shift that has certainly been helped by online freelance marketplaces such as Elance and Odesk, which have made it much easier for freelancers to find work worldwide. While some people may have initially tried freelancing out of necessity due to the economic downturn, many people now choose to freelance because it gives them the flexibility to pursue their lifestyle of choice. If more younger people really are actively looking to freelance rather than take up traditional employment now, it could point to an even bigger shift toward freelancing in the years to come.

Photo courtesy Flickr user {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}, charts courtesy Elance.

4 Responses to “Millennials Prefer Freelancing, Study Says”

  1. Simon,

    While you were clear to point out the ‘selection bias’ in this study, I think you are still understating the obvious inherent conflict of interest here. Elance is in the business of promoting both freelancing and the use of freelancing marketplaces, and the study is designed to do just that. It also has a small sample size (just 350 people). Simply put, I think this study has about all the impact as one put out by McDonald’s telling us that young people like to eat burgers and fries.

    Even leaving that aside, I have to wonder just how many of the responses are based on the reality of freelancing as opposed to the common misconceptions about it. Many people view freelancing positively due to romantic stereotypes that are portrayed in the media, and ironically enough, by the freelancing sites themselves. Elance has frequently been criticized for reinforcing stereotypes of freelancers as being slothful free spirits who live a life of luxury, working in their pajamas or in cafes for a couple of hours a day. The truth is that the few online freelancers who are able to really make a living for themselves are hard-working professionals, many of whom only are where they are because of years of experience gained both freelancing and at full-time positions.

    With regard to your comment to John, you may not realize the extent to which many freelancers replace the risk of being fired from a job with the risk of losing their ranking or even right to use a freelancing site. One bad review from a client can have a dramatic impact on a freelancer’s ability to secure future work. The sites themselves can and do change their ranking systems and other elements of their terms of service at any time, for any reason, which can have a deleterious effect on a freelancer’s career if he or she is too reliant on them. Marketplaces also have the power to ban people from their sites for pretty much any reason they wish, which can result in years of hard work building up a reputation profile being completely wasted.

    Best regards,

    Charles Kozierok
    Author / Publisher, The Online Freelancing Guide

    • I understand your point but I’m not so sure it’s correct, John. If you’ve been successfully freelancing for a while with a reasonable number of clients you’ll probably have a steady income and you could argue that that you actually bear less risk in your income stream than only having a single employer. I suppose it depends on personal circumstances and how comfortable an individual feels, however.