Gen Zers and millennials are turning to freelancing in greater numbers than ever before. Here's why.


Anya Lichtenstein was burned out. She'd spent nearly 10 years as a 9-to-5 employee, feeling like nothing more than a number on a spreadsheet in the corporate workforce, she said.

In October 2021, the 32-year-old quit her job to launch a freelance marketing-consulting service, joining the growing sector of freelance workers who've emerged since the start of the pandemic.

"The proportion of freelancers hit an all-time high at 39% of the US workforce, up from 36% in 2021," Margaret Lilani, the vice president of talent solutions at the freelance platform Upwork, told Insider via email. 

The platform's "Freelance Forward 2022" report, which studied 3,000 professionals, found Gen Z and millennials were the most likely to explore freelancing: In 2022, 46% of millennial professionals and 43% of Gen Z professionals surveyed performed freelance work. 

While the reasons for taking on freelance opportunities vary, common factors include wanting control over a career, seeking flexibility to perform caretaking responsibilities, and the effect influencers have had on young generations —which has shown many that there are nontraditional ways to make money — Lilani said.

Insider spoke with Lilani, two millennial freelancers, and two Gen Z freelancers to learn why the type of work had attracted two generations of young professionals. 

Flexibility is a key factor 

Lichtenstein is one of many freelancers who hoped to gain a better work-life balance by leaving her full-time role.

"A 9-to-5 job is not actually a 9-to-5 job," she said. "The expectation is that you're actually putting in 50-, 60-plus hours a week." 

In her full-time role, she reached a point where the money she was earning wasn't worth her unhappiness and inability to enjoy things outside work, which pushed her to make the leap, she said.

Vivian Garcell, a 32-year-old, started freelance blogging in 2016 for fun. The flexibility afforded her the ability to fulfill her goals.

"I always had this dream of traveling the world and working remotely full time," she said.

In 2017, she left the corporate workforce and started freelancing as a virtual assistant. 

Now, as a virtual-assistant coach, she said her clients were looking for the same flexibility she once sought.

"I have stay-at-home moms who want to be with their kids and younger people who want to travel full-time," she said.

Freelancing is a lucrative route to fulfilling work

Maya Siegel, 22
Maya Siegel is 22 years old and a full-time freelancer. 
courtesy of Siegel

Maya Siegel, 22, took up freelancing to earn extra money when she started college.

"I wanted to ensure that I could pay for college or help my family out in other ways," she said.  

Siegel tapped her experience with social media accounts, building her own website, and forming a newsletter into a set of digital-strategy freelance services. Now she works with companies and people focused on social impact, she said.

"I do this work because I love it and it definitely makes me feel happy and fulfilled," Siegel added. 

Social media has shown people nontraditional opportunities 

Gen Zers and millennials were raised in the internet and social-media era, so they recognize opportunities outside the traditional workforce, Lilani said

"Career paths like freelancing allow them to work when, how, and where they want and to determine their own rates," she added.

For instance, Iyana Jones-Reese is a freelance photographer on top of her full-time job, while Levi Newman writes Amazon product descriptions for a living

"I want to try so many things during the finite amount of time I have in the world," Jones-Reese said. "Freelancing is perfect for that."

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