Tagfinance

Study: Are Coworkers Poor?

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Spoiler: not necessarily. They tend to be under-insured, but they don’t seem to mind.

Christoph Fahle and I conducted a short study on social and financial security among the coworkers at Betahaus Berlin. Betahaus is one of the largest coworking spaces worldwide, and certainly one of the coolest, too.

We did the study simply because so many people are interested in coworking (some recent media coverage: “the future of work“, “digital nomads“). Journalists often try to frame coworkers and other Macbook-hugging knowledge workers like some kind of digital peons. Since both Christoph (as co-founder of Betahaus) and I have a slightly different take on coworking – we both love it and chose to pursue this style of working very much voluntarily – we thought we should go on a fact-finding mission.

So we asked the residents of Betahaus about their financial situation (income, insurances etc), threw in a few demographic questions (age, gender etc), stirred for a while and out came this brief report. For good measure we also tacked on some ideas for improvements of the overall situation of freelancers at the end of the document.

The whole report is available here (in German): Betahaus Kurzstudie “Soziale_Absicherung” (PDF)

Here’s a translation of the executive summary:

Betahaus is a central work space for freelancers in Berlin, from so-called Digital Bohemia to laptop knowedge workers. The large majority of Betahaus users is freelancing or just founding a company. (A few full-time employed are the exception that proves the rule.) Beyond that, the residents of Betahaus can hardly be pigeon-holed as the Betahaus workforce is a very diverse, heterogeneous group regarding income (below €1.800 to over €5.000), age (22-47 years) or profession (design, media, mechatronics…).

If you were to depict a typical Betahaus resident based on the average of all data we found, he would be male, 25-35 years old, freelancing and working full-time. He has health insurance, but no pension plan and hardly has any insurance besides that, but feels sufficiently socially and financially secure. From the government he wishes less bureaucracy, more flexible support and less disadvantages compared to full-time employees. But not just the average, but particularly the statistical outliers find a home at Betahaus, from precarious post-grad to well-earning startup founder or regular employee who is looking for an office away from his office.

In the study we paid particular attention to social and financial security. We came to some remarkable and partly alarming results: Just about 40 per cent of respondents have an all-round insurance package, i.e. health insurance, pension plan and at least one more relevant insurance (occupational disablement insurance, additional private pension plan or life insurance). Still, more than half feels sufficiently financially and socially secure.

Asked for their vision of a perfect social security system, the respondents criticized Germany’s social security system and expressed wishes aimed at politicians: Freelancers are structurally disadvantaged compared to regularly employed, and Betahaus residents wish equal treatment. This includes less bureaucracy as well as more flexibility in the social security system: flexible rates of contributions, the option to exit or change membership in the social insurances, unbureaucratic support in bridging temporary crises or phases of client acquisition. The wish for the option to easier switch between regular employment and freelancing was expressed, particularly in regards to pension plans and health insurance. Particularly young freelancing parents have a hard time as the system for financial support for parents is aimed primarily at regular employees.

We, the authors, are part of the demographic we studied here. In addition to the mere interpretation of the data we would like to offer some perspectives and food for thought in the last chapter. These inputs are aimed as much at politicians as they are at the freelancing community:

  1. Equal treatment of freelancers and regular employees
  2. Make the first steps easier
  3. Allow flexible switching between employment and freelancing (and back)
  4. Flexible micro credits
  5. Support young freelancing parents
  6. Support coworking spaces
  7. Collaboration instead of competition

Christoph has more details in German at the Betahaus blog.

The study is licensed under Creative Commons (by-nc-sa), so share as you wish.

Thanks everyone at Betahaus for your contributions!