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Is Gen Z the freelance generation? The workforce appears to turn to self-employment

The younger generation also redefines what it means to 'make it.'
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
A new lifestyle of workcation that combines travel and work.
Taiyou Nomachi/DigitalVision/Getty Images

There are always stark generational differences in how workers define their career goals and prepare for challenging times. For the younger generation of workers in 2023, this looks like self-employment and freelance work: 64% of Americans under 35 reportedly already freelance or plan to.

According to an Unconventional Jobs Survey by Collective, Gen Z and young Millennials in the US are twice as likely to do freelance work or expect to compared to adults over 35. Only 31% of adults over 35 are going to freelance or planning to do so at some point in their careers. 

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Considering how much the creator economy has strengthened in the past two decades as Gen Z and many young Millennials grew up, this isn't too surprising. In my experience, discussing career paths with the younger generation of workers and students yields dreams of self-employment and career fulfillment. Admittedly, this isn't the career path our parents followed. 

Gen Z and young Millenials define "making it" in their careers when they never have to work over 40 hours a week but can still make enough money to support their lifestyle. In contrast, 44% of Americans over 35 consider they've "made it" when they have enough money to retire. 

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Aside from different career aspirations, Gen Z and young Millennials are also better prepared for the biggest challenges of their careers. 59% of US adults under 35 already have a backup plan in case of layoffs, compared to only 30% of older Americans. 

"Younger workers have a backup plan because they can: AI and online platforms are driving an entrepreneurship boom and empowering a self-employed person to accomplish more than ever before while improving work-life balance and mental health," said Hooman Radfar, CEO and co-founder of Collective. "They no longer have to rely on companies to give them security if they don't want to -- the next generation can bet on itself."

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Younger adults are also more likely to save in case of layoffs and have some side hustle or hobby that could turn into a career than those over 35. 

It appears that the younger Americans are up to something in their search for career independence. According to Collective, out of 105 current freelancers, 88% reported to have experienced improvements in their mental health since leaving full-time employment.

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