GIG WORKERS IN THE REGION
Despite global uncertainty and challenges, restrictive economic policies, the war in Ukraine, persistent effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and economic crises, the global digital work market has continued to expand. According to some estimates, freelancers now account for between 1 and 3 percent of total global employment.
The value of the worldwide digital work market reached more than US$1.5 trillion in 2022 and is projected to grow by 15 percent in the near future. Disruptive changes driven by information and communication technology have created large-scale innovation, causing fundamental shifts in both how work is done and what qualifications are required of workers, and companies have become increasingly reliant on freelancers to get the talent and skills they lack, increase process transparency, accelerate project delivery, and make savings. In the United States, the world’s best developed market, 78 percent of all firms report having used freelancers, with 52 percent claiming to have relied on them on multiple occasions in the previous year. Three out of 10 Fortune 100 companies have reported hiring freelancers, as leading global firms lean increasingly on gig work in their business models.
This Gigmetar regional edition aims to track the evolution of the digital work market in South-Eastern Europe (SEE), including Serbia and Romania, long major global sources of freelance labour. Recent statistics point to particularly favourable trends in Serbia, where the total income earned by freelancers is projected to grow by 19 percent in 2023.
The purpose of the Gigmetar project is to recognise the general characteristics of the SEE gig work market and the similarities and differences between countries in the region, as well as to identify key regional trends and ongoing changes. In a re-emergence of a trend first seen at the time of the initial Gigmetar measurements, the digital work market has been experiencing robust growth. In the latest survey, the supply of platform workers (as measured by registered gig worker populations on the three largest platforms) rose by 13.5 percent, with cumulative annual growth exceeding 40 percent.
The regional gig workforce has grown by 13.5 percent. The smallest increase was recorded in Bosnia and Herzegovina (at 14.4 percent), whilst Bulgaria’s freelancer population soared by 40 percent.
The Albanian platform work market was the most balanced in terms of gender, with women freelancers accounting for 44.2 percent of the workforce. By contrast, Bosnia and Herzegovina recorded the widest gender gap as women’s share in the workforce stood at 29.8 percent in the latest survey.
Upwork has strengthened its regional dominance, with nearly one in two gig workers in the region now registered on the platform.
In the latest measurement, Croatian freelancers commanded the highest hourly rates of US$25.1. Conversely, North Macedonian gig workers earned on average no more than 68.5 percent of the Croatian rates.
Serbia had more freelancers active at the time of the measurement than Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and Croatia combined.
Bulgaria registered the smallest gender pay gap: women freelancers there earned on average 90.4 percent of what their male peers did.
Upwork, Freelancer, and Guru are the leading global platforms in SEE, with 148,272 freelancers registered in the latest measurement, an increase of 17,660 on all three platforms across the nine regional countries.
Romania and Bulgaria were the only two countries to see growth in all three gig marketplaces in the latest survey, with the increase far more pronounced in Bulgaria. Upwork and Freelancer added users in all other countries whilst the supply of workers on Guru fell. This growth was exceptionally robust but uneven throughout the region, which resulted in changes to market shares of the three platforms in SEE.
Upwork’s growth has cemented its regional dominance, with nearly one in two SEE gig workers now registered on this platform. Adding a large number of new workers helped Freelancer increase its market share from 30.6 to 34.4 percent, whereas Guru registered a relatively large drop in its gig workforce that resulted in the contraction of its market share from 24.4 to 16.5 percent. Read more ...
SHARE OF GIG WORKERS BY COUNTRY AS % OF REGIONAL TOTAL
The general characteristics of gig work markets – their geographical dispersion, occupations, gender balance, incomes, and associated distributions – were assessed against those of Upwork, SEE’s major freelancer platform that accounts for nearly one-half of all regional gig workers. Upwork has not only retained its leading position amongst the three major marketplaces but has also seen its market share increase substantially.
In contrast to the previous measurement, the latest survey found more populous countries achieving higher freelancer growth rates. Here, Serbia and Romania, the two countries with the largest numbers of gig workers, have seen their freelancer populations increase by nearly 5pp, with nearly one in two SEE gig workers on the most popular platform now coming from one of the two countries.
Serbia was found to have the largest number of gig workers, accounting for 23.6 percent of the total number. By way of an illustration, Serbia’s gig workforce was 20 percent more numerous than that of Romania, the second largest country. Read more ...
NUMBER OF GIG WORKERS PER 100,000 POPULATION, BY COUNTRY
To ensure a fair assessment of the state of the gig market and eliminate the impact of large differences in size between the countries observed, the figure below shows the relative numbers of gig workers relative to country population. All countries recorded growth by this metric, the same as in the previous survey. However, the growth was not equally distributed everywhere. The greatest increases in gig workers per capita were recorded by the least populous countries, Montenegro (69) and North Macedonia (62), followed by Albania (44), Serbia (43), and Bulgaria (39), with the latter three also seeing significant growth.
Hungary added the fewest new gig workers (9). In the latest measurement, the combination of relatively significant growth and population size helped North Macedonia consolidate its leading position according to this criterion, as well as propelling Montenegro into second and Albania into third place, whilst Serbia slid back into fourth. All remaining countries had far lower freelancer populations, with Hungary trailing the pack with no more than 52 gig workers per 100,000 population.
REGIONAL GIG WORKERS BY PROFESSION
The latest measurement found some changes with how workers were distributed by occupation. The two most numerous occupations, multimedia and creative and software dev and tech, saw their relative shares in the total decline further. Clerical and data entry has also seen a contraction, with the remaining three occupations recording increases in their relative shares, the largest one seen in writing and translation (at 1.3pp).
Changes were also identified with freelancer activity rates. The average rate, measured as the percentage of gig workers active on particular projects at the time of the survey relative to the overall freelancer population, stood at 16.9 percent, an increase of 1.5pp over the previous measurement and 2.5pp over the same period last year.
As in past surveys, Serbia’s freelancer population was found to be the most active (at 22.1 percent, a slight increase on the previous measurement). Even though Albania’s share of the active workforce was the smallest, the activity rate there has also improved by a substantial margin of nearly 3pp. Elsewhere, activity rates ranged from 13.2 percent in Bulgaria to 19.9 percent in North Macedonia, whose gig workforce was ranked only behind Serbia’s for activity.Read more ...
REGIONAL GIG WORKERS BY COUNTRY AND PROFESSION
Although regional figures paint a balanced picture, the distribution of occupations by country exhibits major variations. Comparing the relative shares of particular occupations in each country with the regional averages reveals that some countries enjoy comparative advantages. Above-average relative shares for a particular country mean a profession is over-represented there, giving the nation a comparative advantage at the regional level.Read more ...
REGIONAL GIG WORKERS BY GENDER
According to the latest survey, the relative share of women in the gig workforce has again declined, continuing a trend seen in the previous measurement. Women accounted for 34.7 percent of the freelancer population, with men making up the remaining 65.3 percent. Albania’s gig labour market was the most gender balanced, as women there made up 44.2 percent of the total, whilst Bosnia and Herzegovina registered the lowest share of women, at 29.8 percent, incidentally also being the sole country where women accounted for fewer than 30 percent of the gig worker population. All other countries in the region recorded women gig worker populations ranging from 31.1 percent (Hungary) to 39.2 percent (North Macedonia). Despite the ongoing downward trend in women gig workforce size, this region was still one of the leading parts of the world by women’s participation, although it continued to lag behind South and North America, where the percentages were higher at 42 and 50 percent, respectively.
Women were less well represented in all occupations, but the differences were pronounced: for every 100 female gig workers there were 101 male ones in clerical and data entry, 106 in professional services, 132 in writing and translation, and 147 in sales and marketing support. Men vastly outnumbered women by a factor of 2.1 in creative and multimedia, whilst in software dev and tech there was only one woman for 7 men freelancers.Read more ...
HOURLY RATES, IN US$
The past six months have seen growth in hourly rates accelerate. In a departure from the limited increases seen in the previous two measurements, the most recent study saw hourly rates rise on average by 6 percent, or US$1.25. However, this growth was only partially able to offset the impact of the skyrocketing costs of living. In addition, income growth was uneven across the region, with hourly rates increasing markedly in Bosnia and Herzegovina (by 11.3 percent) and Serbia (9.9 percent), but Hungary (1.8 percent) and Bulgaria (2.6) seeing little growth. These dissimilar trends have led to Croatia having the highest hourly rates in the region of US$25.1. By contrast, despite solid growth of 7.8 percent, North Macedonia has continued to lag behind the rest of the region, with hourly rates there standing at just 68.5 percent of those seen in Croatia.
The most significant difference was observed with the gender income gap. Hourly rates charged by women gig workers have on average continued to converge with those sought by men, with the average woman freelancer in the region earning 86.5 percent of the average income generated by her male peer.Read more ...
Recommended citation: Anđelković, B., Jakobi, T., Ivanović, V., Kalinić, Z. & Radonjić, Lj. (2023). Gigmetar Region, May 2023, Public Policy Research Center, http://gigmetar.publicpolicy.rs/en/region-en-2023-1-2/.
HOW GIGMETAR WORKS
GigmetarTM is the first instrument that describes the geography of digital work in Serbia and the region in terms of gender, income, and most common occupations. It is a result of the efforts made by the Public Policy Research Centre (CENTAR) to shed more light on the work on online platforms.
The Public Policy Research Centre (CENTAR) is a team of innovative researchers and digital enthusiasts investigating the future of work and development of the digital economy in Serbia and South-East Europe.