A gendered analysis of European data on platform workers reveals the pervasiveness of gender inequalities and the replication of traditional economy’s occupational segregation and discrimination in the digital labour market

Gender inequalities in
the platform economy

6 min read
Foto: Unsplash/ Karsten Winegeart

Despite the booming debate on digital labour platforms, studies on this topic incorporating a gender and feminist perspective are still rare. Nonetheless, women represent 4 out of 10 workers in the platform economy in Europe. We therefore started to question: what are the main issues related to gender inequalities in digital labour platforms? Through the analysis of data collected by the European Commission in the framework of the COLLEM surveys on platform workers in 16 different EU countries over the years 2017 and 2018, it was possible to sum up some interesting empirical results focusing on female access to platform work, occupational segregation and precarity in organisational and working conditions. 

Looking at statistics about geographical distribution, it turns unsurprisingly out that female platform work is prevalent in EU countries with low female participation rates in the labour market (Italy and Spain), or where women tend to concentrate in non-standard forms of employment and low-wage jobs (Portugal). Platform work thus does not appear to be a completely free choice, but rather a source of employment opportunities for the integration of women as disadvantaged group lacking better options.

Analysis of gender occupational distribution in the platform economy confirm that digital platforms continue to reproduce the well-known gender inequalities historically present in the offline labour market. Looking at the intensity of work, we found that women’ work intensity on platforms is lower: if the sporadic platform workers are composed of 55% of men and 45% of women, the gender employment gap increases together with the frequency of the activities, up to almost a 70%-30% ratio for workers whose main occupation is through platforms. Moreover, looking at the different types of occupation performed via platforms, with a focus on freelance, microtasks, software development, transport and delivery, a strong occupational segregation appears to be confirmed. Indeed, women tend to be more represented in specific tasks, in particular freelance activities (43%, with the highest percentage in translation – a very “feminised” task in the traditional labour market as well) and microtask activities (41%), while the share of women in software development is the lowest (24%), followed by transport and delivery (32%). Not surprisingly, women are also well represented in on-location tasks that include services provided in person (cleaning, domestic services, beauty services, baby sitting and care services, among others). 

Going deeper into “what women do” in the digital labour market, in countries with a higher participation of women in platform economy, they mostly perform microtask activities, freelance activities and on-location activities, while when focusing on countries where women tend not to participate in the digital labour market, they mainly perform microtasks. This phenomenon is easily explained: microtasks are extremely low-skilled activity (e.g., identifying the contents of an image or recognizing obscure text) and takes not much time (average time: lower than 10 minutes), thus appearing easy to integrate into the life rhythms of those still mainly responsible for (free) domestic work and family care work.

When looking at data on household composition of platform workers, compared with media and political discourses portraying them as young people with no family responsibilities, the outcome is ambivalent. On the one hand, it turns out to be true that platform workers are generally young (average age: 34 years; female average slightly lower). On the other hand, it is less certain that they have no family responsibilities, as data show that 31% of platform workers have children and about 60% are adults living in a couple. Therefore, regardless of young age, many of them are people in structured household situations, in respect of which the same dynamics of the offline labour market are reproduced. In fact, it was found that having children increases the participation in platform work of men living in a couple but decreases the women’s one, while adults who are not in a couple seem not to be affected by the presence of children. When in a couple with children, women remain the primary caretakers, which decreases their participation and time spent on labour platforms and consequently their income. This result contradicts the rhetoric that women use platforms as a chance for combining work and care responsibilities. By now, digital labour markets have not been able to secure their promises of flexibility and growth in female labour participation potentially leading to greater gender equality. women to take advantage of the potential benefits offered by the platform economy as much as men do. Women do not take advantage of platform economy’s potential benefits as much as men, and this is not necessarily the fault of the platforms themselves, but of the lack of policies addressing the online and offline critical situation in terms of organisation of productive and reproductive work and gender imbalances. 

This result is confirmed looking at the general data of density hours worked per week via platforms. Indeed, the well-known disparity in traditional occupations of the labour market, with most men working full time and the majority of women working part time, is mirrored in the digital labour market.

Moreover, women tend to have slightly worse working conditions and earnings than men. A restricted but self speaking poll about payments showed us that, for all activities, men are normally paid more than women, confirming the traditional gender pay gap. Curious results concern two job sectors characterised by high gender segregation: in the software development sector, where women are fewer, their mean salary is higher, reflecting a great self-selection among them, which allows only the elite to reach these positions; another potential explanation for this is that in the software development platforms many times users/workers uses nickname and not necessarily the gender is revealed. Respectively, the few men performing on-location tasks (cleaning, domestic and care services etc) tend to be paid more.

In the end, data show that technology is not neutral, as gender patterns in the platform economy echo those in the traditional one. The objective should be to ensure effective labour protection in the framework of new forms of work, so that platforms cannot implement exploitative female work practices and widen the existing gender gaps, while vainly promising revolutions towards flexibility and equality.


Rodríguez-Modroño, P. & Pesole, A. & López-Igual, P. (2022). Assessing gender inequality in digital labour platforms in Europe. Internet Policy Review, 11(1).


Read this article in Italian