Blog Post

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.

13 Responses to “Independent work: Not a young person’s game?”

  1. Reblogged this on MJTVGirl's Constant Client Stream Guide and commented:
    Many of the people I work with are veterans of the corporate world. They have just realized “something is missing” and they aren’t really sure what it is. Most of them have decided to go off on their own — and there’s a good dose of “am I doing the right thing?” that goes along with that decision. Check out this great article by GigaOm. I think you’ll get the picture.

  2. Many boomers have a good professional network, This gives them a headstart in creating a solo business. They also often have confidence in their skills because of years of experience in their field. The chalenge can be in putting on a business hat and focusing on building a business, which can take up as much time as working on their specialty. The upside to this is that learning new skills is good for health and well beng. That’s an added bonus to the freedom, flexibility and satisfaction that boomers find when working for themselves.

  3. Megan:
    Boomers are, in some cases still paying for their kids’ college educations, plus, many of them have moved back home (my friend has BOTH his adult sons living at home). They also may have medical expenses that younger people don’t have. So don’t be so smug.

    • And Megan, to follow on what Ann is saying, Boomers also have humongous credit card bills. Most of us probably don’t have student loans anymore (it took me 13 years to pay mine off — on modest income that entire time), but we have other debt as well as responsibilities you haven’t tackled yet. Many of us feel like we’re still paying our dues, and we already have! Now it’s your turn.

  4. It’s certainly an interesting time for young millenials, often leaving years of education to find not a soul taught them the basic self branding tools necessary merely to establish themselves amongst their peers, never-mind standout. The implications of less employees working regular hours at a regular office have huge implications for the commuting infrastructure, city center business relying on lunchtime trade etc etc. If truly continued and not merely a kickback from reduced employment opportunities thanks to this great recession, the social shift will be a big one. Exciting uncertainty.

  5. Prescott Perez-Fox

    While statisticians will observe how many young people are indy workers, there’s a lurking variable which is about how many of them had a choice. While most Boomers (and older workers) may choose consulting after a long career in traditional employment, it’s increasingly common for young people and new graduate to face self-employment as the only option.

    This presents a strange problem because young people are learning the hard lessons of work on their own. It’s hard to tell what “success” looks like because there are no promotions, no boss to pad you on the back, no co-workers who snicker at you, and no end-of-year pay bump.

    In many ways self-employment is the future. But it should be a choice, not a default. Some personalities simply aren’t suited for it, and the lessons learned in traditional employment are essential for life as a consultant.

    • Steve King

      Great comment on the difficult work world young people are facing. It’s really hard to go on your own when you have little or no experience.

      Another factor is the “try out” job market. More and more companies are hiring workers as contingents to try them out prior to making a full time job offer. For younger workers, this may be their own way into a traditional job.

    • Prescott: You are right about solopreneurship not being for everyone. However, you have overlooked the fact that many Boomers have gone solo because companies do not want to pay their high salaries, nor their anticipated higher medical expenses. They want younger, more Internet savvy (they think) people who may earn less, and who are healthier, and who will not retire in 5 years. It’s a synical world out there. But you are right about being prepared and knowing who you are and what is a good fit for you. Cheers!

    • Candace Nicholson

      I would argue, Prescott, that Boomers are just as much in harms way when looking for work as new grads and Gen-Yers because many companies opt to hire younger, fresh-out-of-college workers because they’re essentially cheaper.

      New grads aren’t used to make any decent money yet, and most don’t have families to support, so corporations (and even smaller businesses) will hire a young member of the workforce over their older counterparts in order to save money.

      I say Boomers are turning more and more to freelance/contract work because age discrimination and salary caps may leave them little choice.

  6. Marc Canter

    On track Jessica! We’re getting enthusiastic interest from ex-Steel workers in the Weirton, WV area. And in Jamaica!

    Its all about using on-line skills – in a myriad of ways – and feeling comfortable sitting in front of a screen – all day long.

  7. Megan H.

    Boomers don’t have the student loans that younger adults do. Of course it’s easier for them to work independently! I know tons of people my age that would love to freelance, but their insurmountable student loan debt prevents it.