Soc Sci Med. 2023 Oct 6;337:116281. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2023.116281. Online ahead of print.
The rise of the platform economy during the Covid-19 pandemic has stimulated extensive discussions about whether gig workers can obtain equivalent mental health benefits of regular paid employment. Drawing on nationally representative data in the UK, this study aims to examine (1) whether transitioning from no paid work to gig work during Covid-19 is associated with better or worse mental health compared with those who remained not employed and those who became employed in regular jobs; (2) what mechanisms can explain the mental health differences; (3) how the patterns may differ by gender. The results show that transition into gig work is associated with better mental health compared with those who remained not employed, but this pattern is only for male (rather than female) gig workers and can be largely explained by their better financial situation and lower level of loneliness. For both men and women, the transition into gig work is associated with worse mental health compared with the transition into regular employment, but the mechanisms vary across genders. For male gig workers, both higher levels of financial precarity and loneliness in gig work can explain their mental health disadvantages compared with regular workers, but for female gig workers, none of them is at work. These findings facilitate a better understanding of the health consequences of the gig economy, revealing important gender-differentiated socio-psychological mechanisms through which gig work shapes mental health.