The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Behavior of Online Gig Workers

55 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2020 Last revised: 23 Mar 2022

See all articles by Xinyu Cao

Xinyu Cao

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business

Dennis Zhang

Washington University in St. Louis - John M. Olin Business School

Lei Huang

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Date Written: 3 22, 2022

Abstract

Using labor supply data from a large online education platform with more than 100,000 gig workers, we investigate how online gig workers change their behavior after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and what drives the changes. Online gig workers sharply increased their labor supply on the platform by 23\% from the announcement of national emergency to the end of April (Stage 1); the increase became smaller in May and June (Stage 2), and disappeared in July and August (Stage 3). Year-to-year difference-in-difference (DiD) analyses show that these findings are robust after controlling for seasonality and worker heterogeneity. We show that the increase in gig workers' labor supply is not driven by a higher demand or excessive entry of new workers during the pandemic. A series of mediation analyses indicate that unemployment and non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) rather than the risk of contracting COVID-19 can better explain why online gig workers increase their labor supply. The impact of unemployment is smaller than that of NPI policies, indicating that the increase in gig workers' labor supply is more driven by temporary changes in working arrangements due to the policies rather than relatively long-term changes in employment situations. We also examine how online gig workers change their quality of work, and how their earning potential on the platform relates to their changes in behavior during the pandemic. Our findings provide insights for the management of online gig workers during major disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: Gig Economy, Platform Operations, Worker Behavior, COVID-19 Pandemic

Suggested Citation

Cao, Xinyu and Zhang, Dennis and Huang, Lei, The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Behavior of Online Gig Workers (3 22, 2022). NYU Stern School of Business, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3666725 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3666725

Xinyu Cao (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business ( email )

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Suite 9-160
New York, NY NY 10012
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Dennis Zhang

Washington University in St. Louis - John M. Olin Business School ( email )

One Brookings Drive
Campus Box 1133
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

Lei Huang

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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