32 Surprising Freelance Statistics to Know in 2021

Updated on December 16, 2020

Overview: Freelance Statistics

  1. There are 56.7 million total freelancers in the US.
  2. Freelancers comprise 36% of the US workforce.
  3. Freelancers contribute $1.3 trillion to the US economy on a yearly basis. 
  4. The majority of the US workforce freelance by 2027.
  5. Freelance workforce growth has consistently outpaces overall US workforce growth by 3 times. 
  6. A total of 1.07 billion hours are spent freelancing every week. 
  7. 61% of freelancers choose to freelance.
  8. 64% of freelancers have found work online.
  9. $68,300 is the average income for full-time freelancers. 
  10. 40% of full-time freelancers have at least 4-year college degrees.
  11. 48% of American workers report having freelanced at some point in their careers. 
  12. Full-time freelancers make up 40% of the total freelancing population.
  13. 15 million freelancers are occasional freelancers.
  14. 10.8 million freelancers are part-time freelancers. 
  15. 27% of freelancers say the main downside of freelancing is no retirement benefits.
  16. 51% of full-time freelancers say no amount of money would get them to take a traditional job.
  17. 53% say they will not go back to a traditional job
  18. 76% of full-time freelancers say they’re satisfied with freelancing overall.
  19. 82% of full-time freelancers say they’re happier working on their own.
  20. 69% of full-time freelancers say freelancing is better for their health. 
  21. 53% of full-time freelancers say they feel more secure as independents than at a traditional job.
  22. Only 30% of full-time freelancers consider a lack of job security as a major concern.
  23. 69% of full-time freelancers are satisfied with pay.
  24. 57% of full-time freelancers say they do interesting work. 
  25. 60% of full-time freelancers say clients acknowledge the quality of their work.
  26. Full-time freelancers are 3x more likely than traditional job holders to say they have control over how and where they work.
  27. Word-of-mouth is the top way that 46% of full-time freelancers find work. 
  28. 4.1 million freelancers identify as digital nomads.
  29. 70% of full-time freelancers participated in skills training in the past six months.
  30. 63% of freelancers feel anxious about all they have to accomplish.
  31. 77% of freelancers have a better work/life balance than traditional job holders.
  32. 87% of freelancers think that the best days of freelancing are ahead.

 

The freelance workforce is a much less codified group than the traditional, full-time workforce. Because there are no overarching employers to provide data on freelancing individuals, freelancing statistics aren’t easy to come by. Luckily, with growing interest in the gig and freelance economy, many companies have taken it upon themselves to extract data and insights from freelance workforce trends. 

The resulting freelance statistics are useful not only for professionals who are considering who are considering going freelance, but also for businesses that are curious about hiring freelancers. 

Freelance statistics—especially the 32 most interesting ones we’ve hand-picked for this article—illustrate not only the big picture of the freelancing workforce as a whole, but also what the experience of this type of work is like for most freelancers.

Here are the most useful and surprising freelancing statistics for 2020:

32 Freelance Statistics You Need to Know

1. There are 56.7 million total freelancers in the US.

According to Upwork, the supply side of the US freelance economy consists of 56.7 million total freelancers. [1] This number includes all types of freelancers—whether they do freelance work full-time, part-time, or only occasionally.

2. Freelancers comprise 35% of the US workforce.

And this total number of freelancers is a significant chunk of the overall workforce. Exactly 35% of it, in fact. [1] According to the Department of Labor, the US workforce hovers around 163,000,000 workers. [2] So, just over one in three US workers currently freelance in some capacity.

3. Freelancers contribute $1.3 trillion to the US economy on a yearly basis.

An MBO study on the freelance workforce showed that freelancers contribute an annual $1.3 trillion to the US economy every year. For context, that comprises exactly 6.8% of the US GDP. It also equals 100% of Spain’s total GDP, so freelancers produce enough to economically power an entire country. [3]

4. The majority of the US workforce will freelance by 2027.

At the rate it’s going, the freelance workforce will soon take over the overall workforce. Upwork found that by 2027, the majority of the US workforce will be freelance workers in some capacity. [4]

5. Freelance workforce growth consistently outpaces overall US workforce growth by 3 times.

And that’s because it’s growing so rapidly. According to Nation 1099, the freelance workforce is projected to grow at a yearly rate of 3.6%. [7] And over the past few years, growth of the freelance workforce has consistently outpaced growth of the overall workforce by three times. [4]

6. A total of 1.07 billion hours are spent freelancing every week.

Freelancers aren’t just sitting around, either. They’re really putting in work to make a living—or augment their base income. According to Upwork, a total of 1.07 billion hours are spent freelancing every week. [1] That comes out to an average of about 19 hours per week per freelancer. 

Keep in mind—this total number of hours includes all freelancers—even those who freelance part-time or occasionally. These non full-time freelancers tend to have full-time jobs as their main employment, so the number of hours they spend freelancing on the side are naturally fewer because of that. These freelancers weigh the average number of hours worked down. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll have full-time freelancers working more than 40 hours a week that will pull the average up. All things considered, an average freelance working time of 19 hours per week is actually pretty remarkable.

7. 61% of freelancers choose to freelance.

Another valuable freelancing statistic to consider is just how many freelancers choose to be freelancers and how many are freelance because they have to be. Upwork found that 61% of freelancers chose to freelance. [1] This number sheds light on an emotional questions that’s otherwise difficult to quantify: Choosing to become freelance indicates that a freelance lifestyle is attractive to a worker. So, in measuring how many freelancers choose that work setup in effect measures how attractive freelancing is overall—or whether it’s simply a necessary means to get by.

8. 64% of freelancers have found work online.

Tech is becoming more and more prominent in the necessary day-to-day functions we perform—it’s hard to go about checking the weather to stocking the fridge without the help of a piece of technology. And freelancing is far from exempt. More and more freelancers are finding work online.

64% of the freelancer workforce has found work online, and that number has shot up over the past few years. In fact, it’s grown a whopping 22% just within the past five years. [1]

With you consider the freelance-specific apps and websites that have cropped up over the past few years, this growth becomes less shocking. That said, it’s impressive how rapidly freelancers have adopted these online tools for finding work.

9. $68,300 is the average income for full-time freelancers.

On average, full-time freelancers make $68,300 a year. [5] That’s actually higher than the median household income in the US, which rounds in at $59,039. So, despite the less systematized income that full-time freelancers receive, they still manage to earn more than the typical US household.

10. 40% of full-time freelancers have at least 4-year college degrees.

This higher average income certainly has something to do with the fact that freelancers are more educated than your average US worker. 40% of full-time freelancers have at least four-year college degrees. Within that share, 17% of full-time freelancers have advanced degrees. Compared to the 34% of all Americans who have four-year college degrees and the 12% who have advanced degrees, and you’ll understand how disproportionately educated freelancers are. [5]

11. 48% of American workers report having freelanced at some point in their careers.

Perhaps even more impressive than the 35% of US workers who are currently freelancing? 48%, almost half, of US workers have freelanced at some point in their careers. This group is projected to hit 53%, and become the majority, within just five years. [5]

12. Full-time freelancers make up about 40% of the total freelancing population.

Remember how we mentioned that not every freelancer is a full-time freelancer? Well, not even half of them are. Only 40% of all freelancers work freelance full-time. The rest work freelance part-time or only occasionally. [5]

13. 15 million freelancers are occasional freelancers.

This year, 15 million of all US freelancers are occasional freelancers. This label means they only work a few hours of freelance work a week—think driving the occasional Uber ride or starting out a passion business. 

Most important? The number of occasional freelancers grew 6.8% this year and 43% over the past two years. Clearly, US workers are taking on more and more side freelance work to pay the bills. [5]

14. 10.8 million freelancers are part-time freelancers.

Interestingly enough, though, the number of part-time freelancers fell 2.7% to 10.8 million this year. Part-time freelancers are those who regularly do freelance work for less than 15 hours every week, and their numbers are dropping as occasional freelancers become more and more common. [5]

15. 27% of freelancers say the main downside of freelancing is no retirement benefits.

According to Report Linker, the main downside to freelancing—according to freelancers—is the lack of retirement benefits. 27% of freelancers said that this was the main con of working freelance, while the second most (19%) freelancers said low financial security was. The two least cited downsides were both chosen by 9% of freelancers, and they were “difficult to find funding” and “not well paid.” Clearly, the amount of money that freelancers make isn’t the issue, it’s more the structure of earning that stresses freelancers out. [6]

16. 51% of full-time freelancers say no amount of money would get them to take a traditional job.

Believe it or not, most freelancers say that no amount of money would convince them to take a traditional job. Yep—51% of the freelance workforce say that no matter what the salary, they’re not interested in traditional work. [1]

53% say they will not go back to a traditional job.

Interestingly enough, just 53% of freelancers say they won’t go back to a traditional, full-time job—with no mention of salary. So, it seems that, of the freelancers that aren’t willing to go back to a traditional job, almost all of them are firmly unwilling. Meanwhile, only about 2% would be swayed by a high salary. [5]

18. 76% of full-time freelancers say they’re satisfied with freelancing overall.

Results from a study run by MBO show that 76% of full-time freelancers are overall satisfied with their career. That’s right—over three-fourths of workers who solely work freelance are happy with their setup. This number has been increasing significantly over the past few years. It grew 4 percentage points this year and has even grown 13 percentage points over the past four years. [5] Freelancing work—and the overall professional climate—is becoming more and more hospitable for full-time freelancers.

19. 82% of full-time freelancers say they’re happier working on their own.

The same MBO freelance study found that 82% of full-time freelancers are actually happier working on their own. [5] A common perception of full-time freelance careers is loneliness. However, this freelancing statistic indicates that the solitude that comes with freelancing is actually ideal for a solid majority of freelancers.

20. 69% of full-time freelancers say freelancing is better for their health.

Even more? Over two-thirds of those who freelance full-time say that freelancing is actually better for their overall health. When the MBOstudy asked freelancers whether or not they thought that freelancing conditions were better for their health, 69% answered “yes.” [5]

21. 53% of full-time freelancers say they feel more secure as independents than at a traditional job.

Another common perception of full-time freelance careers is that they involve a lot of insecurity. Sure, the very definition of freelancing allows for this—since freelancers aren’t formal employees of their client, clients can give them as much or as little work as they need to. That said, polled full-time freelancers say they feel more secure as independents than they did at a traditional job. [5] Perhaps the diversity of income and work that freelancers take on allow freelancers to feel like they’re not reliant on one employer and thus aren’t likely to lose their entire income should this employer decide they don’t need their work anymore.

22. Only 30% of full-time freelancers consider a lack of job security as a major concern.

Plus, only 30% of full-time freelancers consider a lack of job security as a major concern. [5] So, even of the 47% of full-time freelancers that don’t feel as secure as a freelancer are they did as a full-time employee, 17% of them still aren’t majorly concerned about job security.

23. 69% of full-time freelancers are satisfied with pay.

Despite the discrepancy in overall income for freelancers and traditional job holders, overall satisfaction with pay is pretty much equal between the two groups. While 69% of full-time freelancers are satisfied with pay, 66% of traditional job holders are. [5] This comparable satisfaction with pay can serve as a benchmark off of which to measure the non-financial benefits of freelancing versus traditional employment.

24. 57% of full-time freelancers say they do interesting work.

For instance, it’s easy to compare how interesting full-time freelancers find their work in-part because you don’t have to take differing pay satisfaction into account. While 57% of full-time freelancers say they do interesting work, only 37% of traditional job holders say they do interesting work. [5]

25. 60% of full-time freelancers say clients acknowledge the quality of their work.

Even better, far more full-time freelancers say that their clients acknowledge the quality of their work than traditional employees say their managers do. While 60% of full-time freelancers feel this way, only 39% of payroll workers do. [5]

26. Full-time freelancers are 3x more likely than traditional job holders to say they have control over how and where they work.

The fact that full-time freelance workers feel they have control over how and where they work comes as no surprise—one of the main perks of freelancing full-time is having control over your work environment. That said, a shockingly low number of payroll employees—just 24%—feel they have any control over their working conditions. Meanwhile, 74% of full-time freelancers, more than three-times the amount of traditional employees, feel they have control over how and where they work. [5]

27. Word-of-mouth is the top way that 46% of full-time freelancers find work.

For as long as freelancing has existed, word-of-mouth has been the most trustworthy source of work for freelancers. 46% of full-time freelancers cited it as their top source of work, and 64% cited it among their top three sources of work. [5]

28. 4.1 million freelancers identify as digital nomads.

According to the study of freelancers run by MBO, 4.1 million freelancers identify as a digital nomads. Digital nomads are “people with a location-independent lifestyle that allows them to travel and work anywhere with internet access.” Even part-time or  occasional freelancing—much less full-time traditional employment—don’t allow for this type of freedom, so it’s assumed that only full-time freelancers comprise this population of traveling digital workers. 

Either way, approximately 7% of all freelancers travel, work, and live life independent of a set homebase thanks to the flexibility that freelance work and digital communications allow for. [5]

29. 70% of full-time freelancers participated in skills training in the past six months.

Not only are full-time freelancers more educated than the average American, they’re also more eager to continue learning. 70% of full-time freelancers have participated in skills training in the past six months. Meanwhile, only 49% of traditional job holders did so. This freelance statistic becomes more surprising when you consider that many employers offer education stipends for full-time employees, so they don’t have to pay out-of-pocket for learning skills that will make them better at their jobs. More often than not, freelancers cover the cost of skills training themselves. Yet, 21% more full-time freelancers are taking training opportunities than full-time employees are. [1]

30. 63% of freelancers feel anxious about all they have to accomplish.

Nonetheless, just like any job setup, freelancing isn’t perfect all of the time. For instance, 63% of all freelancers—whether they’re full-time freelancers or not—feel anxious about all they have to accomplish. [1] Of course, because this statistic includes freelancers who are doing freelance work on the side (while still taking on full-time, traditional employment) it’s natural to see a solid amount of anxiety about how much they have on their plate. 

Working more than one job is stressful, no matter which way you slice it. And because less than half of freelancers are full-time freelancers, the occasional freelancers and part-time freelancers likely add a lot of anxiety into the mix.

31. 77% of freelancers have a better work/life balance than traditional job holders.

Nonetheless, 77% of all freelancers still have a better work/life balance than traditional job holders do. [1] So, even with the anxiety that comes with a freelance workload, more than three-quarters of the freelance workforce are still able to find a better balance between their work and their personal life than payroll employees are.

32. 87% of freelancers think that the best days of freelancing are ahead.

Perhaps most exciting of all these freelance statistics? Freelancers are excited for the future of freelancing. In fact, almost all of the freelance workforce—87% to be exact—think that the best days of freelancing are ahead of them. [1] No matter how great freelancing seems at this moment, many freelancers are confident that freelancing conditions will continue to improve.

Freelance Statistics: The Bottom Line

Now that you’ve made it through 32 of the top freelancing statistics currently available, what are your next moves? Well, that depends on who you are. If you’re a professional considering taking on freelance work, or even going full-time freelance, decide whether or not these realities of freelancing are attractive to you. If you’re an employer, you should certainly consider getting on board with freelancing—the tides are turning, and freelancing is only going to become more and more desired by the top talent in your industry.

References:

  1. https://www.upwork.com/press/2018/10/31/freelancing-in-america-2018/
  2. http://www.dlt.ri.gov/lmi/laus/us/usadj.htm
  3. https://www.mbopartners.com/state-of-independence/
  4. https://www.upwork.com/press/2017/10/17/freelancing-in-america-2017/
  5. https://s29814.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/MBO-SOI-2019.pdf
  6. https://www.reportlinker.com/insight/freelance-workers-gig-economy.htm
  7. https://nation1099.com/gig-economy-data-freelancer-study/#upwork

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Maddie Shepherd
Contributing Writer at Fundera

Maddie Shepherd

Maddie Shepherd is a former Fundera senior staff writer and current contributing writer for Fundera. 

Maddie has an extensive knowledge of business credit cards, accounting tools, and merchant services, but specializes in small business financing advice. She has reviewed and analyzed dozens of financial tools and providers, helping business owners make better financial decisions. 

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