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Embracing the gig economy? Choice versus necessity in late-life-working (RDF20/BL/LHRM/EGDELL)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 24, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

As the workforce ages, government is encouraging older workers to work for longer. Concurrently workers are increasingly ‘embracing’ the gig economy. Under ‘flexible’ working arrangements, they engage in work via digital platforms as independent contractors/consultants/freelancers for a defined time period or to deliver a specific service/good. These gig workers are not employed, paid only for the service/good (e.g. IT work, driving, cleaning, plumbing, professional services) that they provide, and may work in non-standard locations.

While gig work in the UK is predominantly undertaken by workers aged 18-34 years, data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (2018) shows that a significant minority of gig workers (10%) are over the age of 55 years. Older workers often want more flexibility in their later working lives as the bridge into retirement. Engagement in the gig economy may signal a positive and flexible way of working, with older workers engaging in work on their own terms. But equally gig working may be associated with labour market precarity and uncertainty, and risky digitalised and algorithmically driven management methods. With a lack of regular hours, older gig workers may struggle to make provisions for retirement. Gig work may be the only, or ‘least bad’ option, for those have been made redundant, are long-term unemployed, have caregiving obligations, or who have been forced to leave employment because of ill-health.

The aim of this PhD research is to understand the motivations, opportunities and risks for older workers in the gig economy in the UK. We envisage that this will be an in-depth qualitative study, but, depending on the applicants’ interests and skills, could be supplemented with quantitative research. The PhD will be supervised by Dr Valerie Egdell (principal supervisor) and Dr Ian Fitzgerald (second supervisor) from the Sustainable Working Futures Research Group.

Eligibility and How to Apply

Please note eligibility requirement:

- Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
- Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
- Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see:

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF20/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Friday 24 January 2020.

Start Date: 1 October 2020.

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Students Worldwide where a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2019/20, this is £15,009 pa) and full fees.


Clarke, L., Hudson, L., & Fitzgerald, I. (2011). Study on the Protection of Workers’ Rights in Subcontracting Processes in the European Union: UK National Report. Report to the European Commission. Available at,

Egdell, V., Fuertes, V., Tjandra, N. C., & Chen, T. (2019). Employer policy and practice toward older workers in Hong Kong: The role of shifting intergenerational dynamics. Journal of Aging & Social Policy, 31(5), 445-466.

Egdell, V., Maclean, G., Raeside, R., & Chen, T. (2018). Age management in the workplace: Manager and older worker accounts of policy and practice. Ageing & Society, doi: 10.1017/S0144686X18001307.

Fuertes, V., Egdell, V., & McQuaid, R. (2013). Extending working lives: Age management in SMEs. Employee Relations, 35(3), 272-293.

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