What is the difference between the gig economy and the platform economy?

By Carolyn Ali

A collage shows a driver, a cell phone and a delivery worker unloading boxes
Gig work includes ride-share and delivery services, freelance content creation and more. Photo: iStock and UBC

The nature of work is shifting, and “gig” work isn’t just for creatives anymore

When you think of gig work, Uber drivers and food delivery workers may spring to mind. But the gig economy is actually much broader, encompassing everything from comedians to freelance accountants. The platform economy is a subset of the gig economy.

“Gig basically means ‘work on demand,’” says Dr. Supriya Routh, a labour and employment law researcher at UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law. “There’s no long-term obligation: the worker comes, goes, and takes the money.” Think of the musician who plays for one night at a club.

The BC government defines gig work as “an income-earning activity outside of the traditional long-term employer-employee relationship.” Dr. Pat Reilly, an assistant professor at the UBC Sauder School of Business who researches social dynamics in creative industries, says there’s been a shift toward gig work in many fields. “The ways in which people secure work and build careers has changed,” says Dr. Reilly. “This kind of work has gone from the domain of the actor, writer, musician or comedian into fields like accounting and legal work.”

According to a September 2022 survey by Angus Reid Group [PDF], young Canadians were twice as likely as those over age 35 to work in the gig economy in addition to their primary employment. That same survey found that BIPOC Canadians were nearly twice as likely as white Canadians to work in the gig economy.

A gig economy worker on the bike riding in the city
Gig work such as food delivery is often brokered by online platforms that connect workers with clients. Photo: iStock

Some of this work for hire is brokered by online platforms. “The platform is an intermediary between the company and the worker,” explains Dr. Routh. “It’s the mechanism by which the employer and employee get in touch with each other. For example, you have Uber on one hand and the Uber driver on the other.” The platform connects the worker with the customer. Upwork, Fiverr and Amazon Mechanical Turk are other examples of platform economy gig work.

But Dr. Routh notes that all gig work isn’t connected to the platform economy, or even to large corporations. “There are gig workers who work for smaller establishments, even mom and pop stores,” he says. Even a student offering tutoring on the side is part of the gig economy.

Learn about how employment law is evolving for the gig economy


Carolyn Ali is a writer for UBC Brand and Marketing. This article was published on January 19, 2023. Feel free to republish the text of this article, but please follow our guidelines for attribution and seek any necessary permissions before doing so. Please note that images are not included in this blanket licence.

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