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Sharing economy bypasses most Americans

News, 20 May 2016

WASHINGTON, DC: Many Americans remain untouched by – and unaware of – several much-heralded aspects of the new digital economy, new research has shown.

A national Pew Research Center survey of 4,787 American adults looked at the impact of the shared, collaborative and on-demand economy and found that seven in ten (72%) had used some type of shared or on-demand service – usually buying second-hand items online (50%) or using programs offering expedited delivery (41%).

Other services were less widely used, however, including buying tickets from an online reseller (28%), buying handmade products online (22%), contributing to online fundraising projects (22%), using ride-hailing apps (15%) and using online home sharing services (11%)

Even fewer had ordered delivery of groceries online (6%), worked in a shared office space (4%), hired someone online for a task (4%) or rented clothing for a short time (2%).

Some of the more recent innovations have passed many by. The survey showed that while 15% of Americans had used ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft, twice as many had never even heard of them.

Similarly, 11% of Americans had used home-sharing platforms like Airbnb or VRBO, but roughly half had never heard of such sites.

Nor had most heard of the buzz terms that surround this sector: 61% were unaware of the term 'crowdfunding', for example, while 73% weren't familiar with the 'sharing economy' and 89% had yet to encounter the term 'gig economy' even if some were actually living in it.

Exposure to these shared, collaborative and on-demand services tends to be heavily concentrated among certain demographic cohorts, typically younger, wealthier and better educated, Pew reported.

Thus, 39% of college graduates were found to have used four or more of the services detailed above, compared with just 8% of those with a high school degree or less.

Similarly, 41% of Americans with an annual household income of $100,000 or more had used four or more of these services – three times the proportion among households earning less than $30,000 annually.

Exposure to these services starts to tail off rapidly after the age of 45: 44% of Americans aged over 50 and older (and 56% of those aged over 65 ) had not used any of the 11 platforms Pew asked about.

Data sourced from Pew Research Center; additional content by Warc staff