9 Things We Learned About How Few Americans Are Regularly Taking Part In The “Sharing Economy”

Image courtesy of Adam Fagen

Though it might feel like you can turn a corner without seeing an ad for this ride-hailing app or that on-demand delivery service, Pew Research Center’s first-ever survey of how American adults interact with the new digital economy shows there’s a big difference between how many people have ever tried one of these services and the people who use them on a regular basis.

Pew’s in-depth survey on the digital economy covers commercial services that offer on-demand access, like ride-hailing apps; sharing service that enable people to sell products or expertise like StubHub and TaskRabbit, respectively; and other “collaborative” services that try to connect communities and solve problems by way of crowdsourcing, like Kickstarter.

Pew surveyed 4,787 American adults and asked them their views on a wide range of services, and while for many folks these services are part of their every day lives, there are many others who barely use them — or even know they exist. Here are a few of the results from Pew’s report on the digital economy that we found most interesting:

1. People are picking and choosing among services: While 72% of American adults have used at least one of 11 different shared and on-demand services, many are only using one or a few of them. About 20% have used four or more of such services, and 7% have used six or more.

2. Exposure doesn’t always translate to use: Then there’s the full 28% of Americans who said they’ve never used any of these commercial platforms. For example, though 15% of Americans have used a ride-hailing app like Uber or Lyft, about twice that many people haven’t even heard of them in the first place. On those same lines, 11% of people have used Airbnb, VRBO, or similar, but almost half don’t know they exist.

3. Educated, high-income, young people in cities use these services the most: It might come as no surprise, but college graduates are more likely to use four more of these services, Pew found, as well as those with relatively high household incomes and those under the age of 45.

Urban and suburban dwellers are also twice as likely as those living in rural areas to use four or more of these services, Pew found, while about 25% of that same category haven’t used any of the platforms the survey measured.

4. People with cars still use ride-hailing apps: The survey found that 3% of American adults use apps like Uber or Lyft on a daily or weekly basis, and around two-thirds of those people either own their own car or regularly drive a personal vehicle, Pew found. Though this means that regular ride-hailing app users have cars, as a group they’re still less likely to own or drive a car than people who only use such apps occasionally or not at all.

5. Ride-hailing apps are convincing folks they’re not transportation companies: Though many users aren’t sure the relationship between these services and drivers, Pew says that in the abstract, people “tend to view these services as software platforms rather than transportation companies, and they view their drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.” About 58% of ride-hailing users see these apps as software companies, 30% view them as transportation companies, and 66% think drivers are independent contractors.

However, 68% of ride-hailing users believe that both drivers and the services themselves should be responsible for making sure drivers are trained properly, and 62% think both drivers and service should make sure cars are clean and safe.

6. About 11% of adults have used something like Airbnb, VRBO, or HomeAway to stay in someone else’s home: Americans of all ages are using home-sharing platforms, Pew found, though folks ages 35-44 are almost twice as likely as people ages 18-24 to have used one.

7. There’s confusion on the employer/worker relationship here, too: Similar to ride-hailing app users, consumers using home-sharing services aren’t quite sure on the relationship between the platform and the people renting out their spaces. About 58% of home-sharing users say such services are just software companies, while 26% see them as hospitality companies that vouch for the quality of the properties they list, and have control over the customer experience.

Again, much like with ride-sharing apps, those who use home-sharing services ascribe varying levels of responsibility on the parties involved when it comes to managing the day-to-day user experience: 67% believe that both homeowners and the home-sharing platforms themselves should make sure properties are like they’re described, while 8% think it all rests on the shoulders of the app or service, and 23% think it’s up to homeowners.

8. One-in-five Americans have given to online fundraising projects: Close to 20% of American adults have given money on sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, and 3% have created their own project on such sites. Most of those folks who have contributed have done so only a handful of times — 87% have given to a total of five projects or fewer.

9. People like to donate money to those in need: A full 68% of adults who’ve contributed on crowd funding sites have given money to help someone facing hardship or financial challenges.

Another 34% have given to fund a new product or invention, while others donate money for school projects or fundraisers (32%), to musicians or other creative artists (30%), and to projects for new businesses (10%).

Shared, Collaborative and On Demand: The New Digital Economy [Pew Research Center]

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