Research| Safety Nets

Which type of gig worker are you?

Restless retiree. Unemployed grad. These are some common stereotypes of gig workers. Here, we argue for a more objective way of profiling gig workers in order to address different types of vulnerabilities.

By Edwin Goh | 3 March 2020


Over December 2019 and January 2020, we published sets of findings from our study of gig workers. The reality is sobering. Part 1 of our gig worker study showed that a significant proportion of gig workers, 58%, are effectively working on gigs full-time. For many, gig work is no longer just for side income.

Further, the notion of flexible and independent labour has concealed underlying risks. Part 2 of our study found that one in five gig workers do not have any form of social protection, i.e. no savings or insurance. Compared to formally employed workers, informal workers such as gig workers have always been under-protected in terms of social protection coverage but the extent of vulnerability revealed by our study is troubling.

Coverage of public concern about gig workers tends to revolve around certain stereotypes and contemporary worries such as unemployed graduates, hungry students and overqualified retirees. These stereotypes are also quite persistent amongst policymaking circles. However, our study shows that only 16% of ‘full-time’ gig workers have tertiary education. Youth aged 18-24 and elders aged 55 and above combined only make up 12% of respondents in our study.

Note: Tertiary education refers to Bachelor’s degree or higher level of qualification.

To debunk misleading stereotypes and to aid policymakers, we propose a typology of gig workers based on (a) hours worked and (b) the extent of social protection coverage. Based on these parameters, we’ve identified five types of gig workers.

1. ‘The Vulnerable’, which comprise 29% of respondents in our study, are those who work full-time hours or more but possess, at most, just one type of social protection scheme. For the majority of’ The Vulnerable’, the social protection they own is the Self-Employed Employment Injury Scheme (SEEIS) which is required by law. As the name denotes, ‘The Vulnerable’ are the gig workers at most risk, with minimal or no social protection at all.

2. ‘The Middlings’, comprising 24% of respondents, are slightly better than ‘The Vulnerable’. They work full-time hours or more, they take home similar amounts of net income from gig work but possess 2 to 3 forms of social protection.

3. ‘The Settled’, comprising 13% of respondents, are the least vulnerable relatively speaking. They work full-time hours or more, make slightly more in net gig income compared to ‘The Vulnerable’ and ‘The Middlings’ and have 4 to 5 forms of social protection.

It is worthwhile noting that the majority of these three types of ‘full-time’ gig workers are of prime working age, from 35 to 55 years old. The vast majority of them also have not had tertiary education.

The remaining two types of gig workers are those who work less than full-time hours:

4. ‘The Hustler’, comprising 17% of respondents, are those who work part-time hours and possess less than three types of social protection.

5. ‘The Dabbler’, also comprising 17% of respondents, are those who work part-time hours and have more than three types of social protection.

The majority of ‘The Hustler’ (63%) and ‘The Dabbler’ (61%) also do not have a degree, but there are more degree holders amongst these two groups compared to those who work full-time hours.


Figure 1: Typology of gig worker

Note: Number of social protection is defined as the total number of social protection the respondents indicated to have or participate in from the given list, which includes emergency savings, retirement/old-age savings, healthcare insurance, employment injury insurance, and unemployment insurance.

Our typology of gig worker aims to focus attention on those who are most at risk, namely groups like ‘The Vulnerable’ and ‘The Middlings’ who work full-time hours yet possess very little social protection coverage. But be it side hustle or main job, it is time to move away from certain stereotypes and assumptions.

Gig work is not just a way to earn pocket money nor a job for unemployed graduates and restless retirees. Instead, attention must be paid on working-age adults with no tertiary degrees who are working on gigs beyond 8 hours a day, 6 to 7 days a week.