Europe’s 1099 Economy: Is Self-Employment the New Normal?

A new study from the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research examines the state of self-employment in Europe and finds that, as in the US, self-employment or freelance work is the fastest growing segment of the workforce.  Across Europe, 14% of all workers are now self-employed, and interest in self-employment is growing.  In fact, 45% of survey respondents expressed preference for self-employment over a traditional “real job,” and a large share of the currently self-employed express strong job satisfaction.

The challenges facing Europe’s version of the 1099 economy as similar to those found in the US.  A fundamental trade-off exists:  swap flexibility and options for steady pay and security.   Independent work can be fulfilling and exciting, but it can create lower pay and tougher working conditions.   For most Europeans, the trade-off may not be as stark as we find here at home.  Thanks to more solid social safety net programs, many of the concerns faced by America’s self-employed—how to pay for health care, retirement, and education—are less pronounced.   On the flip side, many European nations are actively encouraging more start-ups and seeking more flexible and dynamic economies.  So, Europeans may benefit from an even greater upside of a strong freelance economy.   In the end, the growth of Europe’s self-employed workforce offers further evidence that these trends are not unique to the US, but are about an ongoing transformation in the world of work.

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