Lancers’ Report: The State of Freelancing in Japan in 2021

Lancers’ Report: The State of Freelancing in Japan in 2021

First launched in 2015, the Freelance Fact-Finding Investigation report (フリーランス実態調査 = freelansu jittai chousa) is published annually by Lancers, Japan's largest crowdsourcing job site. 

This year marked their seventh annual report on trends in freelancing and new work styles in Japan, drawing from official statistics and their own analysis and surveys.

Today, we take a quick look at Lancers’ notable findings on the current state of freelancing in Japan in 2021. 

2021 showed a sharp rise in Japan’s freelance population

The freelance population in Japan (in a broad sense of the word) increased by more than 5 million from the previous year to a total of 16.7 million freelancers. 

Growth of Freelance Population in Japan, as of 2021

Going back a little bit, in February 2020 the report recorded a 560,000 drop in freelancers compared to figures from the year before. However, in 2021 as pandemic-induced work style changes swung into gear, the number of freelancers in Japan’s working population increased by 5 million

Presently, Japan's freelance population is 24% of its working force, according to Lancers. Lancers points out that this figure lags when compared to the U.S., where 35% of the working population falls within the freelance category

Some have criticized this number as being too large to be accurate. Commentary provided by Workship Magazine provides the following context: They note that Lancers’ definition of "freelance in a broad sense of the word" includes "anyone who has earned at least one yen from a second job in the past 12 months. For example, a person who usually works at a company but answered a questionnaire for 500 yen via crowdsourcing just once within a year is also considered a freelancer.”

The 4 main profiles of freelancers in Japan

Based on Lancers’ analysis, they classify freelancers in Japan into 4 general profile categories: 

  • Profile 1. Side Job Workers—26.3% of the freelance population and a total of 4,390,000 workers as of 2021. This profile category consists of those who are employed full time but who do side jobs during their spare time. The annual average income of side job workers: ¥63,900

  • Profile 2. Parallel Job Workers—22.3% of the freelance population and a total of 3,730,000 freelancers as of this year. These are workers who work on a contract basis for two or more companies. The annual average income of parallel job workers: ¥1,084,000

  • Profile 3. Independent Freelancers—18.4% of the freelance population with a total of 3,080,000 as of 2021. These are workers who do not have a specific employer but are independent professionals. The annual average income of independent freelancers: ¥57,800

  • Profile 4. Independent Business Owners—33% of the freelance population with a total of 5,510,000 as of 2021. These are sole proprietors/corporate execs who run a business on their own. The annual average income of freelancing sole proprietors: ¥3,548,000

The 4 main profiles of freelancers in Japan

According to Lancers, the population of freelancers in all 4 categories has increased since 2020. 

Specifically, the number of workers with side jobs and parallel jobs has increased by 1.04 million since last year. The investigation attributes this to the rise in telecommuting, which became widespread to prevent the spread of COVID-19, eliminating commuting time and leaving more time for individuals to explore side hustles.

Other notable points in Lancers’ 2021 report include the following: 

Lancers’ CEO on the increase in Japan’s freelance population

In a press release that accompanied their annual report, Lancers’ CEO Yosuke Akiyoshi 秋好陽介 proposed the following reasons regarding the notable rise in Japan’s freelance population: 

First, looking at the results of the 2021 report, the number of self-employed independent freelancers who are in charge of business planning increased by 9.2%, and those in charge of sales increased by 8% compared to last year. This is thought to be due to professionals who realized they can work without relying on the company and who have switched to a freelance career as a result.

Second, the number of workers with side jobs or parallel jobs has increased from 7.08 million last year to 8.12 million this year—attributed to the spread of telecommuting and the elimination of travel time, which has allowed people with more time to start side jobs or double jobs.

Additionally, when the type of work of those who are doing side jobs and double jobs is considered, Lancers found that many of those surveyed answered "business (sales, marketing, etc.)" as their main jobs, while listing "consulting/coaching" as freelancers, which suggests that they are using the professional knowledge they gained in their main jobs and transferring that knowledge as consultants. 

With the spread of work styles unconstrained by time and place, Akiyoshi believes that professional personnel will continue to start side jobs and parallel jobs in the future.

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