Paul Oyer is the Fred H. Merrill
Professor of Economics, and
Rebecca Diamond is an assistant
professor of economics
(by courtesy), at Stanford GSB.
Over the past few years, Stanford Graduate
School of Business professor Paul Oyer has
explored the growing gig economy from
many perspectives. He’s analyzed hourly
and annual income differences between
freelancers and full-time employees. He’s
researched (and consulted for) Upwork,
the world’s largest freelance website. He’s
nosed around Uber’s database. And last
year, to better understand how the ride-sharing platform works, he became one of
the company’s certified drivers.
We recently sat down with Oyer. Our
main goal was to learn more about the
many cultural shifts being caused by
the exploding gig economy, but we also
wondered what a tenured professor
of economics learned by driving people
around for money.
Why exactly did you decide to become
an Uber driver? I’m a labor economist and
I often study specific groups in the labor
market. For instance, I once wrote a paper
about the careers of economists. In that
case, I fully understood the institutional
context. Then I started researching
and doing some consulting for Upwork.
I considered looking for work using
Upwork’s platform, just to get a sense of how
it operates — the institutional context —
but I don’t really have any skills to sell
as a freelancer.
to the Gig
To learn how Uber and other freelance
platforms work, economist Paul Oyer got
in his Audi and drove.
BY STEVE HAWK
Photograph by Winni Wintermeyer