New Data & Society ethnographic report Beyond Disruption uses interviews with over 100 domestic and ridehailing platform workers in major U.S. cities to reveal how technology is reshaping the future of labor.
While ridehail driving and other male-dominated sectors have been at the forefront in conversations about the future of work, the working lives of domestic workers like housecleaners and nannies usually aren’t included.
Beyond Disruption featured in The New York Times
“Nannies, elder care workers, and housecleaners might have years of experience, but that isn’t enough to thrive on a marketplace platform.”
“There’s an App for Wrecking Nannies’ Lives”
By bringing these three types of platforms and workers together, this report complicates simple narratives about technology’s impact on labor markets and highlights the convergent and divergent challenges workers face when using labor platforms to find and carry out their work. Interviewees reported increased financial and personal risk due to platform policy and design loopholes. For example, workers with marginalized identities (e.g. people of color and undocumented workers; largely women) report inequitable conditions that arise from common features such as rating systems.
“Beyond Disruption” highlights important differences, challenges, pressures, and inequalities within the two different types of labor platforms and sets the stage for more nuanced understandings of how technology is shaping the future of work beyond the “gig economy.”
“Marketplace platforms incentivize workers to invest heavily in self-branding and disadvantage workers without competitive new media skills; meanwhile, on-demand platforms create challenges for workers by offloading inefficiencies and hidden costs directly onto workers.”
Authors Julia Ticona, Alexandra Mateescu, and Alex Rosenblat define two categories of labor platforms: on-demand platforms (such as ridehailing app services) and marketplace platforms (such as online careworker directories), which differ in the way they intervene in the client-worker relationship:
Workers for both types of platform share challenges in navigating platform policies, ensuring workplace safety, and hedging against instability.
Based on findings from research sites in New York City, Atlanta, and Washington D.C., the report further illustrates how digital labor platforms reshape legacy industries such as domestic work through new regulation, shifting workforce demographics, and changing dynamics of inequality and exploitation.
This report is the first research release from Data & Society’s newly-formalized Future of Labor research initiative.
This report was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with additional support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Ford Foundation. The views expressed here are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding organizations.