Authors: Fabian Stephany, Otto Kässi, Uma Rani, Vili Lehdonvirta

In Short: The Online Labour Index 2020 (OLI 2020) provides researchers, policy makers, and the public with near real-time data and visualisations on the global development of online gig work.

We launched the Online Labour Index (OLI) almost five years ago. Since then, it has become a point of reference for scholars and policy experts investigating the market for online gig work, also known as online freelancing and online outsourcing. This year, we have launched the system’s biggest ever update, which introduces wider coverage, new interactive visualizations, and easy access to data. We’ll call this new version the OLI 2020. In this post, we’ll offer a preview of some of the new insights that OLI 2020 provides. Our recent paper on the OLI 2020 with Big Data & Society has a more detailed description.

One third of all online freelancers come from India

Since the beginning of global online freelancing, countries like India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have been popular digital outsourcing locations because of their workforces’ strong English language and tech skills. The OLI 2020 reveals that over the past five years, the share of workers from the Indian subcontinent has only grown. India’s share of the global online worker population monitored by the OLI 2020 has grown from 25% in 2017 to 33% in 2021. For Bangladesh the corresponding numbers are 10% and 15%.  This is illustrated in Figure 1 below, which is produced using OLI 2020’s new time series slider.

Figure 1: Between 2017 and 2021, the share of online labour supply from India has increased significantly. Now, one third of all freelancers are located in India, and more than half comes from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Female participation in the online labour market

One of the most exciting new features of the Online Labour Index 2020 is that the index now provides data on the gender breakdown of online labour supply. The gender breakdown estimates are based on guessing worker genders from their given names, drawn from a small subset of the platforms tracked. This is not an exact method, but it provides a view into a dimension of the market that until now has rarely been examined.

Overall, the data suggests that female workers make up approximately 39 percent of labour supply in the online gig economy. But there are big country differences. The greatest female participation is in the United States, where women make up 41 percent of the independent online workforce. In India, the corresponding number is only 28 percent. This especially significant given that India is the largest supplier of online labour overall: almost one in three remote platform workers appear to be in India.

Figure 2: Share of women among online freelance workers in the United States and India, by occupational category.

But when we break down the U.S. and Indian online labour supply by occupational category (Figure 2), something interesting emerges. Although overall female participation is lower in India than in the United States, the order is reversed in the software development and technology category. Only one in five remote tech contractors in the U.S. is female. In India, a quarter of remote tech contractors are female. Participation in tech freelancing thus seems more equal in India than in the United States.

Still, in both countries, the largest proportion of women by far is found in writing and translation work, suggesting that online occupations remain somewhat segregated by gender.

Easy access to open data

The figure above was produced using the Online Labour Index 2020 interactive worker data visualization. In the Online Labour Observatory, you can easily generate your own visualizations, and then download the underlying data with the push of a button. The data can be used to for instance recreate the graphics in Excel, or to produce more sophisticated analyses in a statistical analysis package. The data are provided under a very permissive Creative Commons BY license that just requires you to acknowledge us if you publish the data. We hope that the many researchers, policy makers, and journalists who have used our data in the past will find these new features useful.

How to cite the Online Labour Index 2020

The Online Labour Index 2020 is produced by Fabian Stephany, Otto Kässi, and Vili Lehdonvirta as part of the Online Labour Observatory – a collaboration between the International Labour Organisation and the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford. The original OLI was produced as part of the iLabour project at the Oxford Internet Institute. The data set and visualization are made available on a CC-BY license. You are free to use them in other publications as long as you credit the authors. Please link back to this page or include the following citation:

Stephany, F., Kässi, O., Rani, U., & Lehdonvirta, V. (2021). Online Labour Index 2020: New ways to measure the world’s remote freelancing market. Big Data & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/20539517211043240