Though more people are earning some form of secondary income, research suggests that men and women often have different motivations when pursuing a side hustle.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the number of Americans with more than one job hit a two-decade peak in 1995, with more than 6.8% of workers holding a second job, before declining steadily until a low of 5% in 2013. A recent survey of 2,000 Americans by the recruiting platform Jobvite, however, has found that nearly a quarter of working Americans earn some form of secondary income.
Researchers suggest that the rapid increase in side hustling is a result of a number of recent developments that have made earning a secondary income more appealing, necessary, and attainable than ever before.
The skyrocketing debt levels of American students, averaging more than $37,000 last year, are leading many graduates to pursue a side hustle to pay down their student loans. With nearly half of millennials switching jobs every one to three years, secondary incomes have also become more necessary to help bridge the gap between full-time roles. Furthermore, the past few years have seen an explosion in digital tools that make a side income more attainable than ever, ranging from sharing economy platforms like Uber and Airbnb to freelance platforms like UpWork and 99 Designs.
While the Jobvite survey suggests that approximately one in four people across all age brackets now has a second source of income, it has also found that men are more likely to pursue a side hustle out of passion, while women are more likely to be motivated by financial necessity.
The study found that 61% of women with a side hustle indicated that they pursued a second source of income because they needed the money, compared with 48% of men. At the same time 31% of men with a side gig report being primarily motivated by passion, compared with only 19% of women.
Jobvite’s research is consistent with another recent study conducted by consumer financial services provider Bankrate, which found that nearly 70% of women use their secondary income to help pay for expenses, compared with only 42% of men.
Though neither study was able to provide a precise reason for the discrepancy, researchers have considered a number of explanations.
“Without speculating too much we know that the wage gap is very real, so it’s possible that could be a factor in why more women are spending side hustle income on living expenses in comparison to men,” said Bankrate blogger and analyst Sarah Berger. “We also know that being a single mother is very expensive, so a side hustle might be necessary for women with kids who are struggling to make ends meet.”
Though the gender wage gap still sits at around 23.7%, according to a 2016 study by PayScale, FlexJobs’ senior career specialist Brie Reynolds isn’t convinced that it’s the primary factor leading more women to pursue a secondary source of income.
“Maybe men more often take full time jobs that they’re not necessarily passionate about but that pay the bills, so they pursue freelance work as a way to follow their passion,” she says. “It might be that more women are already doing things in their full time jobs that they’re more passionate about.”
Another theory behind the gender discrepancy in side hustle motivation relates to the fact that, according to Pew Research, the number of married Americans is at its lowest point in nearly a century, with millennial men and women marrying at an average age of 29.5 and 27.5 years, respectively.
“I think there’s an independence factor that is leading this,” says Rachel Bitte, the chief people officer for Jobvite. “You may be seeing [in these statistics] that women are increasingly trying to become more financially independent and secure earlier in life.”
Financial independence was a factor for 26-year-old side hustler Kassondra Cloos. After graduating in 2013 with debt greater than her starting salary, Cloos says the only way she could justify spending on anything aside from her student loans was with money earned outside of her day job as a newspaper reporter in Virginia.
“I was paying almost as much in rent as I was for student loans,” she says. “I really wanted to save money to travel, but it wasn’t something that I felt I could justify with my student debt.”
Cloos worked as an Uber driver between shifts at the newspaper, rented out her living room on Airbnb, and even donated plasma in order to support herself, travel, and continue paying down her student loans all at once.
While Cloos’s side hustles were entirely motivated by financial necessity, Daniel Berzen initially lost money on his. The 29-year-old loves his senior creative role at a marketing agency, but his true passion has always been in live music and events. He began his side hustle in college, booking artists to play small venues near campus, before launching an artist collective called Almost Art after graduation.
“We basically find art we love and help build it out,” he said, explaining that the role could involve anything from designing album art to booking private events. “I was entirely motivated by my love for art, and once you’ve decided that you’re willing to lose money on it you’re more than willing to put a lot of time into it.”
Though it required some upfront investments and a lot of his time, Berzen says he’s building experience that he could one day use to create his own label. Furthermore, he’s able to leverage the relationships he’s built on the side to the benefit of his full-time employer.
Bitte explains that both Cloos’s and Berzin’s stories are consistent with the feedback gathered in Jobvite’s study, adding that such discrepancies in motivation could have long-term implications for employers.
“It shows that women are feeling financial pressure, and that financial pressure is going to lead them to potentially look at their full-time gig and question whether they’re making enough, and maybe they’ll start to negotiate more,” she says.
On the flip side, Bitte believes that the fact that men are pursuing their passion in the form of a side hustle should be of equal concern to their employers as well. “They might start to ask themselves, ‘why can’t I turn my side gig into a full-time career?”
As a result Bitte believes it’s more important than ever for employers to pay their employees fairly and provide an opportunity for them to pursue passion projects at work. Otherwise they could risk losing talent to the growing number of side hustle opportunities available to them.