The surprising relationship between education and flexible work

Key takeaways

  • Instawork Pros are more highly educated than the overall pool of hourly workers
  • As in the labor market at large, higher educational attainment is associated with higher hourly pay
  • Better educated workers also receive better ratings in our reputation system, confirming the value of education for in-person, hourly, flexible work

Our inaugural State of the Flexible Workforce report includes a variety of insights about flexible workers – whom we call Pros – but one finding stands out: they are not only more diverse than the overall hourly workforce, but also more educated. Pros are more likely to have finished high school (97% to 89%) and to have some college under their belts (69% to 55%) than hourly workers as a whole. So how does this higher educational attainment affect outcomes in the workplace?

One way to find out is by looking at the behavior and performance of our Pros depending on their education. Here's a summary of attainment among the Pros we surveyed:

6 Oct 2022 educational attainment

More than half continued their education beyond high school, and more than a third got a degree, which usually isn't a requirement for jobs at caterers, e-commerce distribution centers, food service providers, warehouses, and other workplaces that we help to staff.

Now let's look at their work histories at Instawork. The number of hours these Pros had worked per day since joining our platform essentially rose with their levels of education:

6 Oct 2022 hours per day by education

This chart includes Pros who never worked, but it's almost identical if we exclude them. So it's not the case that less educated Pros are downloading the app and not using it. It's more likely that the less educated Pros are still in school. A look at their ages across the same educational groups confirms this, except for the Pros with postgraduate degrees and vocational training:

6 Oct 2022 18-24 education

Why didn't Pros with postgraduate degrees and vocational training work more hours? It's probably because they are the two most employable groups in the labor market at large. They may simply have fewer hours left over in their schedules for flexible work.

In many kinds of jobs, higher educational attainment is associated with higher pay, and it's no different on our platform. Here are the average hourly rates earned by Pros classified in the same groups:

6 Oct 2022 rate by education

Generally speaking, higher education is associated with higher hourly pay. But again, younger Pros will have had less experience in the labor market, so they won't necessarily be able to work in higher-skilled roles like line cook, forklift driver, or onsite captain. They may also be prevented by law from working some of the highest-paid shifts, like bartender.

These differences are still smaller than the ones we'd observe in the labor market as whole. Across the United States in 2021, workers with postgraduate degrees had triple the median weekly earnings of workers who hadn't finished high school. It's also interesting to note that a postgraduate degree didn't result in higher pay than a bachelor's degree for in-person, hourly, flexible work.

Finally, we can examine performance – did workers with more education get higher ratings from businesses in our reputation system? Almost uniformly, they did:

6 Oct 2022 rating by education

Once again, workers with postgraduate degrees did not have appreciably different results from workers with bachelor's degrees. But otherwise, more education was correlated with higher ratings – though the differences were small among Pros with at least some college coursework. This effect persisted even after controlling for age.

As the number of roles covered by flexible work expands, especially into higher-added-value occupations, the importance of education will probably increase. For now, it's clear that education already makes a difference to outcomes in flexible work. And that's why we're proud to have a highly educated workforce on our platform.

 

Realtime metrics

These metrics, derived from data aggregated across the Instawork platform, compare the two weeks starting 9/22/2022 to the previous two weeks. To control for the overall growth of the Instawork marketplace, only shifts involving businesses that booked shifts in both periods are included:

  • $0.22 rise in hourly pay

  • 0.7% point drop in share of short-notice shifts

  • 0.2 hours drop in hours per existing worker

To receive future briefings and data insights from our Economic Research team, please subscribe below. Follow Daniel Altman on Twitter at @AltmanEcon or on LinkedIn.

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