Self-employment boosts mental health in UK gig economy, study finds

Photo by Soheb Zaidi

Self-employment is positively related with mental health with benefits including abilities to concentrate and be confident and even happiness, according to a new INSEAD Working Paper. 

Such benefits are most significant for women, older workers (40-64), and people who do not have a university degree and to a lesser extent, men and younger workers (18-39).

The paper titled “The Effects of Self and Temporary Employment on Mental Health: The role of the Gig Economy in the UK” offers evidence that contrasts with commonly-held beliefs.

The authors —Mark Stabile, professor of economics at INSEAD, and Bénédicte Apouey, Paris School of Economics-CNRS — matched health and demographic characteristics with travel and online search data.

By relating to booming services such as Uber, Airbnb, and Deliveroo across the UK, the researchers identified a clear pattern. British gig economy workers and freelancers scored consistently better on mental health measures and reported having more energy than the general working-age population.

Moreover, the self-employed tend to drink less. Reduced alcohol consumption could be linked, the authors suggest, to the growing numbers of people making a living as drivers with mobility service providers such as Uber. Temping as food deliverers during evening hours could also decrease bikers’ thirst for beer or wine.

“We recorded a consistent pattern of improvements across drivers of mental health,” Stabile said. “Self and temporary employment support the ability to concentrate, not being constantly under strain, confidence, belief in self-worth, and happiness.”

Results are consistent with a 2018 report by the Bank of International Settlements. There, more than half of those working in the gig economy reported being satisfied with their experience, due to the independence and flexibility aspects of their work.

Still, the co-authors call for caution. Some precarious jobs – such as zero-hour contracts – likely offer less control and satisfaction. These types of employment, the researchers warn, could have detrimental effects on mental health.

“The British gig economy may provide one example,” Stabile said. “But we need to help workers shape the way they earn a living everywhere.”