Article Snapshot

A huge number of people are using the ‘sharing economy’, but they don’t know its name.

While the sharing economy may be a significant news story, very few Americans have heard of the terms ‘sharing economy’ and ‘gig economy’. This, however, is not reflective of the widespread use of sharing economy platforms in the US.   With the meteoric rise of the likes of Airbnb, Uber and Expert360 (we tentatively throw ourselves into a category with these two sharing giants), you would think that the majority of people in the United States would be familiar with the biggest global trend in the workforce.

If you did think that, you would be wrong.   Last week, major US research centre – Pew – published a study in which respondents were asked a series of questions about the on demand economy. Surprisingly, just 27 per cent of survey respondents knew the term “sharing economy” and only 11 per cent of respondents knew the term “gig economy”.   Despite this, Pew’s research found that 72 per cent of American adults had in fact used shared and on demand services.   This finding indicates that while the terms ‘sharing economy’ and ‘gig economy’ might not be well known, the companies that are part of this global phenomenon are still widely used in the United States, decidedly confirming how ingrained this new wave of work is in day-to-day life.   “Ultimately, the responses made clear that while the term “sharing economy” might mean something specific to those who follow the subject or are deeply embedded in the technology industry, the public as a whole has a very tenuous grasp of what the sharing economy stands for,” said Pew Research Center.   Furthermore, the study asked respondents who had heard of the term ‘sharing economy’ (27 per cent of total respondents) to define the term in their own words.   Many of these people, the study found, did in fact not know what the sharing economy was and instead based their definition more literally around the word ‘shared’, mostly ignoring the ‘economy’ aspect. Common definitions were as follows:   “Helping others with what you are able when they are in need.”   “Helping the less fortunate to try and get them back on their feet and be successful.”

Many people also viewed the sharing economy as a community initiative.   “Having a set of friends and neighbors who borrow each other’s stuff, so everyone doesn’t need to buy their own rarely used items.”   Of course, a number of respondents did define the term as it is most commonly used.   As Pew states, it’s hard to blame the public for struggling to come up with a definition of the sharing economy.  Many experts studying it can’t even decide what it is.   number of experts who study the industry have argued that the term has become more confusing than enlightening,” the research centre concluded.   While the definition of the sharing economy remains muggy to most of the population of the United States, the national penetration of this new wave of work is extremely high and deeply ingrained in society.   To see the full report: click here.

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