NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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The Value of Flexible Work: Evidence from Uber Drivers

M. Keith Chen, Judith A. Chevalier, Peter E. Rossi, Emily Oehlsen

NBER Working Paper No. 23296
Issued in March 2017, Revised in June 2019
NBER Program(s):Industrial Organization Program, Labor Studies Program, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Program

Participation in non-traditional work arrangements has increased dramatically over the last decade, including in settings where new technologies lower the transaction costs of providing labor flexibly. One prominent example of flexible work is the ride-sharing company Uber, which allows drivers to provide (or not provide) rides anytime they are willing to accept prevailing wages for providing this service. An Uber-style arrangement offers workers flexibility in both setting a customized work schedule and also adjusting the schedule from week to week, day to day, and hour to hour. Using data on hourly earnings for Uber drivers, we document the ways in which drivers utilize this real-time flexibility and we estimate the driver surplus generated by this flexibility. We estimate how drivers’ reservation wages vary from hour to hour, which allows us to examine the surplus and supply implications of both flexible and traditional work arrangements. Our results indicate that, while the Uber relationship may have other drawbacks, Uber drivers benefit significantly from real-time flexibility, earning more than twice the surplus they would in less flexible arrangements. If required to supply labor inflexibly at prevailing wages, they would also reduce the hours they supply by more than two-thirds.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23296

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