Varieties of platform work. Platforms and social inequality in Germany and the United States
ISSN der Zeitschrift
The platform economy has been criticized for exacerbating social inequalities in various ways. This study draws on these discussions and examines the extent to which social inequalities are being reproduced, reduced, or even increased within platform work. The first central question is that of the precariousness of this form of work and the vulnerability of the platform workers as a group. This is followed by a second question about the role of classical dimensions of inequality of education and gender within the group of platform workers. The study focuses on inequalities related to income, workload, and the subjective perception of platform work. It follows a comparative approach, building on institutionalist analyses developed in labor market and inequality research. The empirical analysis is based on case studies of 15 crowdwork platforms in the United States and Germany and on an online survey of crowdworkers in both countries. While platforms represent a global organizational model, they are embedded in different models of capitalism. The study shows that existing labor market segmentation and social welfare systems determine who works on platforms and to what extent. The weaker the social safety net, the more likely platform work is to be both a curse and a blessing: It offers a much needed and flexible source of income, albeit under extremely precarious conditions. The stronger the social safety net, on the other hand, the greater the market power of workers vis-à-vis the platforms.