The gig economy is booming, with Americans spending more than 1 billion hours per week freelancing, according to a new survey.

Freelancing in the U.S.: who’s freelancing, and why?The US Gig Economy

The 5th Annual Freelancing in America study found that the U.S. freelance workforce has grown by 3.7m since 2014.

This represents a growth of 7%, which is significantly higher than the 2% growth of the non-U.S workforce over the same period.

The study, commissioned by the Freelancers’ Union and freelance marketplace Upwork, found that there are now 56.7m freelancers in the U.S and that more than one in three (35%) Americans freelanced in the past year. There are also more full-time freelancers, at 28%, than before.

Why do they choose freelancing?

Today, it seems, mainly from choice, and mainly for the lifestyle. In 2014, 53% said they had chosen to freelance rather than done so out of necessity, but that figure has now risen to 61%.

42% said they were unable to work for a traditional employer because of other demands on their time or personal circumstances, such as health issues and caring duties, so they chose freelancing to get the flexibility they require.

The survey also found that younger generations are freelancing more than any other generation in the workforce, with the majority of college-educated freelancers admitting their college education has been less valuable than skills training for the work they do. 93% of freelancers with a four-year college degree said training was useful, but only 79% said their college education was useful to the work they do now.

“Despite an economic boom, which has created a record number of full-time, 9-to-5 job openings, Americans are increasingly choosing to freelance,” said Stephane Kasriel, President and CEO of Upwork.

“At the same time, technology is freeing people from the archaic time and place work constraints that are no longer necessary for today’s mostly knowledge-based work.”

The U.S. Freelance Lifestyle

So where do U.S. freelancers find gigs?

Unsurprisingly, they increasingly find their next job online. The survey found that 64% of freelancers found work online in the last year, up from 42% in 2014, and 67% said the proportion of their work found online has increased.

Although both freelancers and non-freelancers say they prioritise achieving the lifestyle they want, it seems freelancers are most likely to achieve this, and 51% said no amount of money would persuade them into traditional employment. 84% said lifestyle was more important than earnings.

Freelancers are more proactively updating their skills as the job market evolves compared to non-freelancing workers, with 70% of full-time freelancers saying they had participated in skills training in the past six months, compared to 49% of full-time non-freelancers. Training was primarily in areas that affect freelancers most—technology, networking and business management—but 53% said cost is a barrier to training, particularly as they are more likely than non-freelancers to pay for training themselves.

“Freelancers are the backbone of our economy, but this crucial segment of America’s workforce faces unique challenges, including access to affordable healthcare and workforce development training to update skills in a competitive environment,” said Caitlin Pearce, executive director of Freelancers Union.

While U.S. freelancers did admit that managing their freelance career could be stressful, 77% felt it provides a better work/home balance—and they are optimistic about the future, with nearly nine in 10 saying they believe the industry’s best days lie ahead.

What was behind your decision to freelance, and are you optimistic about the future of freelancing here in the UK?