Why Do Americans Work Side Jobs?

August 22nd, 2020 by 

In the last post, we looked at the most popular side jobs worked by Americans in 2017. As the most logical followup, in this post we'll look at why Americans worked side jobs. Once again, data comes from the 2017 Federal Reserve Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking.

Why Do Americans Work Side Jobs?

One of the relevant questions asked for the survey was multiple choice - essentially, "name all the reasons you are earning income on the side". It gave a pretty extensive set of options, everything from working on skills to supplementing main job income.

Why Did Americans Work Side Jobs in 2017

Why Did Americans Work Side Jobs in 2017?

Earning money on top of a primary job was the most popular reason to work a side job. By far.

For fun (hobby) was another popular option, followed by earning as a primary source of income and to help out family.

Using a side job to earn as a primary source of income is an interesting response. Underpaid careers, unpaid internships,  career changes, and temporary training and education probably boosted this one quite a bit. Since ~31% of Americans earned side income, that reason curiously applies to around 6% of American adults. Any ideas?

What Was the Top Reason Americans Worked Side Jobs?

The second – but perhaps more important – question about reasons was on what a respondent's primary motivation was on a side job. Interestingly, the skills and networking options faded away to rounding errors:

Top Reasons Americans Worked a Side Job in 2017

Top Reasons Americans Earned Side Money in 2017

Again, the two dominant reasons were to earn supplemental money and to have fun with a hobby. As before, earning a primary income on the side and helping family members were reasonably popular. This time, though, the primary income earning reason gained on the helping a friend option.

All in all, 65.74% of Americans who worked part time did it primarily to earn – whether as a primary or supplemental source of income or to help out family. A mere 3.55% of Americans did it to network or develop skills for a (presumably) primary career.

Reactions to American Side Job Motivations

As we've been looking into these 'side jobs', we've realized they don't all fit our perception of the definition of 'job'. Today, for both questions, 'as a hobby' was an option - and even the IRS looks at hobbies different than jobs.

Still, caveats and pedantism aside, earning money on the side is a very popular thing in America. As we saw in the last post, somewhere approaching 31% of American Adults have some side-earning activity outside their main job. Perhaps expectedly(!?), the main reason Americans work side hustles is for the pay increase... followed by "as a hobby". ~65% of all side jobs were worked primarily for the earnings... which seems about on point.

Also, there's no reason something that starts out as a hobby can't become something more. Isn't that right, reader of a website named Don't Quit Your Day Job...?

See anything interesting in the data? Next we'll look at revealed preferences instead of stated ones and see how hard Americans work these side hustles.




PK started DQYDJ in 2009 to research and discuss finance and investing and help answer financial questions. He's expanded DQYDJ to build visualizations, calculators, and interactive tools.

PK lives in New Hampshire with his wife, kids, and dog.

Don't Quit Your Day Job...

DQYDJ may be compensated by our partners if you make purchases through links. See our disclosures page. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
Sign Up For Emails
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram