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General Social Survey

What is it measuring?

The General Social Survey (GSS) collects a wide range of information on the characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors of Americans. The Quality of Working Life Module asks questions about work arrangements, asking respondents if they are independent contractors/consultants/freelancers, temp-agency workers, on-call workers, contract-company workers, or regular, permanent employees. The module also asks a range of questions about work conditions and experiences, satisfaction, and earnings and benefits.

What does it tell us?

In 2014, 20.3 percent of the population was engaged in independent contracting, on-call, temp-agency, or contract-company work as their main job.

How is it collected?

The GSS uses a probability sample of the American population and consists primarily of in-person interviews. It is conducted biennially, with a sample of approximately 3,000. Different modules, or sets of questions, are asked in different years. The Quality of Working Life Module was most recently collected in 2010 and 2014. In 2014, the response rate was 69.2 percent.

Who collects it?

The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, with support from the National Science Foundation.


The GSS is designed to gauge attitudes, behaviors, and relative counts, rather than to estimate the overall size of particular groups. In addition, questions about work arrangements are only asked among respondents who identified as employed, and so self-employed individuals are not included in the above numbers.

How to access this data?

GSS data are available via the GSS website directly, the GSS Data Explorer, the Roper Center, and ICPSR.


Contingent Workforce: Size, Characteristics, Earnings, and Benefits; 2015; GAO; GAO;

The Gig Economy: Research and Policy Implications of Regional, Economic, and Demographic Trends; 2017; Ben Gitis, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, and Will Rinehart; American Action Forum and Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative;