Side-hustles: young people and employment-adjacent entrepreneurship

The challenge

Forty-two per cent of Australian ‘Gen Z’ youth are reportedly engaged in ‘side-hustles’, which are small-scale entrepreneurial activities pursued alongside formal employment. The problems in the labour market that are driving young workers to engage in side-hustles include employment insecurity, declining advancement opportunities, low wages, and diminishing returns on education.

In Australian and international social policy, entrepreneurship is positioned as a solution to youth unemployment, rural and regional disadvantage, post-COVID economic recovery, gender inequality, and inequalities between the global north and the global south. Youth entrepreneurship is promoted as a pathway to more fulfilling work than that available in the labour market, and is becoming a policy solution to youth un(der)employment and economic growth in Australia, the OECD and the EU. Proponents of ‘enterprise skills’ (FYA, 2017) have also called for young workers to be trained in the attributes and practices of business, meaning that entrepreneurship is now seen as an aspect of employability.

There is no comprehensive evidence base about the nature of young workers’ entrepreneurial activities or the outcomes they experience. This project will be the first to examine how young people actually become entrepreneurs, and how their entrepreneurial practices relate to inequalities and labour market structures. By creating an evidence base about the nature and social consequences of the side-hustle, this project will inform national and international efforts in the areas of entrepreneurialism, youth (un)employment and economic growth.

Project overview

The project will create a world-first dataset: it will combine quantitative survey data and qualitative interviews, and employ a longitudinal design that follows a cohort over three years. With these methods, the project will explore the characteristics of side-hustlers, the relationship between labour market inequalities and side-hustles, the way that young people pursue and manage side-hustles, and the outcomes they experience. The project will also explore the skills they acquire through their side-hustles, and the degree to which skills acquired through entrepreneurship or employment are transferrable across these two domains. This project will create new knowledge about the changing nexus of entrepreneurship and employment in Australia and internationally, and shed light on the winners and losers of ‘hustle culture’ in a precarious labour market. The project asks the following research questions:

  1. Who are the young people who engage in side-hustles (gender, ethnicity, social class, labour-market experience and employment situation), and what do their side-hustles consist of (e.g. industry, type of work)?
  2. What are the motivations (e.g. income, inability to secure ‘standard’ employment) and aspirations (e.g. career progression, eventual full-time entrepreneurship) of side-hustlers and how do they attempt to actualise these in their engagement with entrepreneurship and employment? How do these vary in relation to labour market inequalities identified in Question 1?
  3. What skills and dispositions do young people accumulate in their side-hustles and in their jobs, and how do these relate to one another?
  4. How practically do young people combine entrepreneurship with paid employment and other responsibilities? What resources are required to do this, and how do these vary in relation to labour market inequalities identified in Question 1?
  5. What are the consequences of side-hustling for young people’s working biographies, including their employment conditions or the outcomes of their entrepreneurial practices? How do these vary in relation to labour market inequalities identified in Question 1?

The project is organised into two components: Component one is quantitative and surveys a cohort of young people with side-hustles every year for three years. This component captures the structuring of side-hustle biographies in relation to social inequalities and labour market situations. Component two is qualitative, based on biographical interviews focusing on the practices, motivations, and identities formed through side-hustles. This qualitative component explores the personal investments made in work and in side-hustle activities, allowing for the different investments made in ‘side’ activities and a ‘main’ occupation to be posed as a question that is answered in terms of participants’ aspirations and employment situations as they evolve over time.


The evidence created by this project will support efforts to facilitate youth entrepreneurship, address youth unemployment, and enhance Australia’s future labour force. Outcomes include policy papers and reports, a policy forum, academic outputs, and a project website, offering benefit to policymakers, educators and employers.

By creating a longitudinal dataset about the motivations for side-hustles and the resources mobilised in their actualisation, this project will create evidence that can support young people’s business activities and help them make the most of the energy and creativity they bring to their work. This evidence will be made available to young people considering or engaged in side-hustles through public-facing reports and a website containing accessible summaries of project findings and recommendations. The project will also suggest ways that workplaces can incorporate and support young people with side-hustles.

Project team

Dr David Farrugia, Deakin University
Dr Brendan Churchill, The University of Melbourne, Western Sydney University
Associate Professor Kim Allen, University of Leeds


Design, advertise and distribute survey round 1 – Year 1
Recruit and interview cohort 1 (80 participants) – Year 2
Recruit and interview longitudinal cohort (30 participants) – Year 2
Second longitudinal cohort interview (30 participants) – Year 3
Analysis – Years 2 and 3


Australian Research Council Discovery Project


young people, work, employment, side-hustle, entrepreneurs