Non-Standard Work

Submission Deadlines: See upcoming deadlines

The Russell Sage Foundation/Kellogg Foundation’s Initiative on Non-Standard Work seeks to support innovative social science research on the causes and consequences of the increased incidence of alternative work arrangements in the United States.  We define alternative work arrangements as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers.  We use the terms non-standard work and alternative work arrangements interchangeably. This initiative falls under RSF’s Future of Work Program and represents a special area of interest within the core program, which continues to encourage proposals on a broader range of labor market issues.

We are especially interested in novel uses of new or under-utilized data and the development of new methods for analyzing these data. Potential sources of data include the 2015 Survey of Enterprising and Informal Work Activities (EIWA) of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the 2017 Contingent Worker Supplement (CWS) of the Current Population Survey.  Proposals to conduct field experiments, in-depth qualitative interviews, and ethnographies are also encouraged. Smaller projects might consist of exploratory fieldwork, a pilot study, or the analysis of existing data. RSF encourages methodological variety and inter-disciplinary collaboration.  The foundation will consider proposals for cross-national research that has clear implications for the U.S. labor market.


Some research suggests that employment in standard jobs has been declining relative to that in alternative work arrangements. Yet, we know little about how this change affects workers. Some non-standard jobs may be good ones, paying well and giving workers control over the terms and conditions of work, and flexibility in how the work is performed.  And some regular full-time (or standard) jobs are characterized by low pay, low security, and poor working conditions. Recent studies (see references below) document an increased incidence of alternative work arrangements, with rapid increases among workers hired through contract firms (Katz & Krueger, 2016). These studies find that non-standard work is associated with fewer hours and lower wages compared to standard employment in similar jobs. 

Also, even though growth in the online gig economy has been rapid, most non-standard work operates via traditional labor market intermediaries, rather than online.  Among all on-line platform workers, “gig” earnings tend to be a secondary source of income with these workers experiencing substantial income volatility (Farrell & Greig, 2016a, b).  Some research on domestic sub-contracting suggests that companies adopt this practice to reduce compensation and shift economic risk to workers (Goldschmidt & Schmieder, 2015).

Areas of Interest

RSF, in collaboration with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, invites research proposals that will advance our understanding of the causes and consequences of changes in the nature of employment, including the definition and measurement of non-standard work, the implications of the rise in non-standard work for labor force participation, income security, economic growth and innovation, and the wellbeing of workers and families. 

Because the economy is evolving more rapidly than the federal statistical infrastructure, researchers are analyzing data from public and private sources (e.g., surveys, administrative sources from tax and social security records, financial transactions, social media, automatic sensors), and collecting their own data on firms and workers. We welcome research that analyzes new data sources, including the EIWA and CWS.

Examples of the kinds of topics and questions that are of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

The Measurement and Classification of Non-Standard Work

Surveys do not adequately capture the variety of arrangements under which workers are classified.  Can the measurement of non-standard work arrangements and employer practices be improved using new data sources? Can findings from different data sources (e.g., the IRS and CPS data show divergent trends in self-employment) be reconciled?

Trends in Non-Standard Work

What proportion of the workforce is employed in “standard” jobs and how has this changed over time?  To what extent are changes in non-standard work due to secular trends and the business cycle?  How do job tenure, job retention, and the probability of job loss differ for standard and non-standard work?

Causes of the Increase in Alternative Work Arrangements

What factors contributed to the decrease in standard jobs and the increase in non-standard ones?  How prevalent is domestic outsourcing (by occupation/sector/overall), to what extent has it grown over time and how are workers affected? Why do firms contract out for certain functions and what is its impacts on job quality?  To what extent is the choice of non-standard work by firms a way to reduce their sharing of monopoly rents?  What comprises a wage theory for alternative work arrangements?  In the case of domestic outsourcing, does the causal arrow run from outsourcing to falling wages?  Or are the workers whose wages are falling outsourced by parent firms to reduce their payroll and rents? 

Effects of Non-Standard Work on Workers

What is the duration of periods of work and idle periods for non-standard workers?  Do they experience more volatility than workers in standard jobs with the same characteristics?  To what extent has non-standard employment affected the labor force participation, wages, income trajectories, and income volatility of low- and moderately-skilled workers? What are the implications of non-standard employment for skills development, future labor market opportunities, family formation, savings or retirement decisions? How have workers’ perceptions and expectations about work and employment changed (i.e., what do they consider to be a “good job”)?  How do employers evaluate workers who have held non-standard jobs?  Are the effects different for high-skilled versus low-skilled non-standard workers, for men and women, younger and older workers, racial and ethnic minorities?

The Changing Social Contract

To what extent do collective representation, democratic rights, and worker protections, including social insurance, differ between standard and non-standard work? What are the implications of the emergence of new (i.e., technology) intermediaries for labor and employment laws? To what extent can portable benefits protect workers in non-standard work? How do we define and measure voluntary and involuntary idleness in alternative work arrangements, given that there is no provision of unemployment insurance? 

Application Information



Abraham, Katharine G. 1990. “Restructuring the Employment Relationship: The Growth of Market-Mediated Work Arrangements.” In New Developments in the Labor Market: Toward a New Institutional Paradigm, Katharine Abraham and Robert McKersie, eds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 85–119.

Abraham, Katharine G., John C. Haltiwanger, Kristin Sandusky, and James R. Spletzer.  2015 (October). “Measuring the ‘Gig’ Economy,” U. of Maryland

Autor, David H. and Susan N. Houseman.  2010. “Do Temporary Help Jobs Improve Labor Market Outcomes for Low-skilled Workers? Evidence from ‘Work First.’” AEJ: Applied Economics 2(3): 96–128.

Bernhardt, Annette, Rosemary Batt, Susan Houseman and Eileen Appelbaum. 2016. “Domestic Outsourcing in the U.S.: A Research Agenda to Assess Trends and Effects on Job Quality.”  Department of Labor Conference Paper on the Future of Work.  December 10, 2015.

Dube, Arindrajit, and Ethan Kaplan. 2010. “Does Outsourcing Reduce Wages in the Low-wage Service Occupations? Evidence from Janitors and Guards.” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 63(2): 287–306.

Farrell, Diana and Fiona Greig.  2016a (February). “Paychecks, Paydays and the Online Platform Economy,” JPMorgan Chase & Co. Institute.

Farrell, Diana and Fiona Greig.  2016b (March). “The Online Platform Economy: What is the growth trajectory?”

Goldschmidt, Deborah, and Johannes F. Schmieder. 2015. “The Rise of Domestic Outsourcing and the Evolution of the German Wage Structure.” IZA Discussion Paper No. 9194. Bonn: Institute for the Study of Labor.

Harris, Seth D. and Alan B. Krueger. 2015. A Proposal for Modernizing Labor Laws for Twenty-First-Century Work: The “Independent Worker.” Hamilton Project, Discussion Paper.

Kalleberg, Arne. 2013. Good Jobs, Bad Jobs. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Katz, Larry F. and Alan B. Krueger.  2016 (September). “The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015.” Working Paper.

Krueger, Alan B. 2016. “Work in the Sharing Economy.” Presentation made at a session of the Labor and Employment Relations Association, Allied Social Sciences Association meeting, January 3, in San Francisco.

Robles, Barbara, and Marysol McGee (2016). “Exploring Online and Offline Informal Work: Findings from the Enterprising and Informal Work Activities (EIWA) Survey,” Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2016-089. Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System,

Weil, David. 2014. The Fissured Workplace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.



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