NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Digitization and the Contract Labor Market: A Research Agenda

Ajay Agrawal, John Horton, Nicola Lacetera, Elizabeth Lyons

Chapter in NBER book Economic Analysis of the Digital Economy (2015), Avi Goldfarb, Shane Greenstein, and Catherine Tucker, editors (p. 219 - 250)
Conference held June 6-7, 2013
Published in April 2015 by University of Chicago Press
© 2015 by the National Bureau of Economic Research

Online contract labor globalizes traditionally local labor markets, with platforms that enable employers, most of whom are in high-income countries, to more easily outsource tasks to contractors, primarily located in low-income countries. This market is growing rapidly; we provide descriptive statistics from one of the leading platforms where the number of hours worked increased 55% from 2011 to 2012, with the 2012 total wage bill just over $360 million. We outline three lines of inquiry in this market setting that are central to the broader digitization research agenda: 1) How will the digitization of this market influence the distribution of economic activity (geographic distribution of work, income distribution, distribution of work across firm boundaries)?; 2) What is the magnitude and nature of information frictions in these digital market settings as reflected by user responses to market design features (allocation of visibility, investments in human capital acquisition, machine-aided recommendations)?; 3) How will the digitization of this market affect social welfare (increased efficiency in matching, production?)? We draw upon economic theory as well as evidence from empirical research on online contract labor markets and other related settings to motivate and contextualize this research agenda.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.7208/chicago/9780226206981.003.0008

This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w19525, Digitization and the Contract Labor Market: A Research Agenda, Ajay Agrawal, John Horton, Nicola Lacetera, Elizabeth Lyons
Commentary on this chapter: Comment, Christopher Stanton
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