Most Americans still don't participate in the sharing economy

But early adopters have embraced new ways of sharing goods and services.

Key takeaways:

  • The majority of survey respondents have yet to participate in the sharing economy.
  • Americans who do participate in the sharing economy view it in a positive light.
  • Flexibility and convenience are the most cited benefits of the sharing economy.

If you've ever taken an Uber, ordered dinner from DoorDash, or rented someone else's home through Airbnb, you've participated in the sharing economy. Before iPhones ushered in the age of apps, we hailed a taxi on the street or dialed a cab dispatcher if we needed a ride. When we wanted a sandwich delivered, we called the restaurant directly. And securing house rentals by owner wasn’t as easy as booking a hotel room.

Over the last decade or so, peer-to-peer rental platforms have emerged, giving us access to new ways of hiring services — and the opportunity to make money by participating on the other side of the equation. The sharing economy is sometimes called the gig economy, collaborative consumption, peer-to-peer rentals, and asset-sharing. No matter what it's called, the idea is the same: individuals provide goods or services to others, often through a third-party platform set up to help them do so. The most well-known third-party platforms are Uber and Airbnb, but others have emerged to help people rent — or share — everything from their cars (Turo) to their swimming pools (Swimply) to their skills (TaskRabbit). The rise of this sharing economy has disrupted and revolutionized several industries, opening a new way of doing business for Americans willing to take a risk and try it out.

Still, despite the sharing economy's projected value of more than $790 billion by 2028, approximately two-thirds of Americans have yet to participate in this industry, either as providers or users, according to a recent survey conducted by Progressive. The September 2023 survey included 2,267 randomly selected people; a large majority said they had never participated in the sharing economy. Of the one-third who had participated in the sharing economy, we asked detailed questions about their experiences, uses, and beliefs.

We asked those surveyed to share the types of goods and services they offer and use and how frequently they use them. Of particular note is the grocery and food delivery category, which experienced stratospheric growth during the pandemic. According to McKinsey & Company, the food delivery industry has grown at a historical rate of about 8%. But from 2017 to 2021, it more than tripled to over $150 billion globally.

Who’s participating in the sharing economy

For the approximately one-third of respondents in our survey who participate in the sharing economy, nearly everyone, regardless of age (92%), had used a third-party platform like Airbnb, Turo, or Swimply to rent something from another individual. Similarly, 88% of respondents have used a third-party platform like Rover, TaskRabbit, Instacart, or Uber to hire someone to perform a service for them.

Age differences appear among those renting goods or providing services as gig workers. Since many of these peer-to-peer platforms are app-based, you can expect technologically savvy younger generations to be more proficient with them. Most of Generation Z (62%) are gig workers who use apps to provide services, and 65% rent out goods. However, many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are also serving as sharing economy providers.

Regional differences in the sharing economy

Of the respondents who participate in the sharing economy, variation based on the region of the U.S. in which they live is subtle. However, providers are more prevalent in the southern United States. The number of people who rent out something they own ranged from a low of 54% in the Northeast to 61% in the South. For those providing a service, it ranged from a low of 44% in the Midwest to 53% in the South.

On the other side of the transaction, more people in the western United States rent and receive services than in any other region, and people in the Midwest use these services the least. This regional breakdown could be influenced by Silicon Valley, where many of these apps were first developed and tested. For instance, San Francisco was the first city to get Airbnb in 2007, followed by Uber in 2010, giving that region a head-start in the sharing economy. From there, apps generally moved to large, densely populated urban areas before spreading to the rest of the country.

The benefits of the sharing economy range from convenience to sustainability

Most people, whether renting goods and services from others or renting out their goods and services, cite flexibility and convenience as the number one reason they use third-party sharing platforms (64% of renting respondents and 48% of those who rent out). Other top reasons include:

Top reasons sharing economy participants provide goods and services:

  • Sustainability concerns — 24%
  • Supplemental income — 46%
  • Main source of income — 23%
  • Low barrier to entry — 7%

Top reasons sharing economy participants rent goods and services:

  • Cost savings — 44%
  • Variety and choice — 30%
  • Trustworthiness — 19%
  • Sustainability concerns — 18%

An early adopter’s story: evolving with the sharing economy

Stratton Lawrence, 41, from Charleston, SC, is a comparative early adopter in the sharing economy, having used to find accommodations when traveling and to offer a space to travelers in the '00s. Eventually, in the early 2010s, he put that space on Airbnb to start making money because "Sometimes the couch surfers don't want to leave!"

He’s hosted on Airbnb ever since, and after he got married, he and his wife got more purposeful about providing rentals. "We bought our house in 2014, and it was above our budget. We bought it specifically because it had a separate downstairs apartment that we could renovate and put on Airbnb," he says. "It was not a mainstream service at that point. To us, it was an evolution of couch surfing — grown up a little bit."

So when it came time to rent a car during a trip to Costa Rica in 2020, his previous experience as a provider made him more comfortable to try out Turo as an early renter. "It wasn't my first time considering Turo, but it was my first time actually using it," he says. "We needed a car for two months, and it was almost half the cost for a comparable car versus what I was finding at the usual sites and larger name-brand agencies."

So why was the deal that good? "I figured out that this was a startup rental car agency in San Jose, Costa Rica, that was using Turo to get business," Lawrence says. "I was the first renter of this particular vehicle on Turo, which is always a little concerning. Like, is this legit? Am I going to get there and not have a car?" But he also knew that "with a lot of listings in the sharing economy, Airbnb, Turo, you're incentivized to give a discount to your first few customers, so you can build up positive reviews." The trip — and the rental — worked out perfectly.

When asked about the level of trust he has with Turo after further rentals — whether the trips were domestic (Arizona) or international (Scotland), Lawrence says they have his full trust. "At that point in 2020, Turo wasn't even as well-known as it is now. With adoption around the world, I think that's probably the greatest contributor to Turo's legitimacy, as opposed to then when it was a fairly new thing, but I knew about it because I was using the sharing economy with Airbnb."

What about safety, security, and privacy?

In our survey, we asked respondents about their level of trust in sharing economy apps in a few different ways. The results for both providers and renters were consistent — and consistently positive.

Considering third-party platform apps, 89% of respondents said they fully or somewhat trust the platforms and would use them again. Overall, only 7% of respondents reported having negative experiences and that they would not use sharing economy platforms again. Only 3% of respondents said they don’t trust any sharing economy platforms.

We also asked survey participants about their experiences offering goods and services and receiving them. For those renting goods or services from other people, 79% said they had never had any safety, security, or privacy issues. On the flip side, 82% of those who rent or share with others had no such issues.

Just because negative experiences are uncommon doesn't mean that thoughts about safety and security have disappeared. When asked about challenges or concerns, providers ranked safety and security as their highest priority — equal to pricing and profitability. For renters, safety and security ranked third place, with quality and condition (42%) and availability (41%) ranking higher.

We also asked participants about their general perception of the sharing economy. Only 11% of respondents agreed with this statement: "It is a risky way to do business, as there is no guarantee of quality or safety." That percentage was the same for both providers and renters. When asked how beneficial the sharing economy is, only 12% of providers and 9% of renters deemed it "risky" due to privacy, safety, or security./p>

How respondents feel about insurance in the sharing economy

Regardless of their participation in the sharing economy, more than 70% of respondents felt that having insurance coverage while providing or using shared goods and services was important. They took it a step further and put the onus on the third-party platforms — more than 70% of respondents believe it's the responsibility of those platforms to provide insurance rather than requiring sellers and buyers to get it for themselves.

Some platforms, such as Airbnb and Uber, offer insurance coverage to owners and drivers as part of the fee they charge users to register with the platform. For homeowners who rent out their homes, having additional liability insurance is important since most homeowners insurance policies won't cover short-term rentals.

Other platforms, like Rover (for pet sitters), offer a reimbursement program for every booking that they refer to as a "guarantee" but specifically state that it's not "insurance" in their terms and conditions. Still others, like TaskRabbit, do not provide any form of insurance or guarantee against losses.

Ultimately, both users and providers should become aware of the options offered by a given sharing platform. And most people do. According to our survey, 66% of people review insurance coverage before renting or providing goods and services. Likewise, 64% of respondents believe they're adequately covered while using sharing platforms. However, most people cite cost as the number one reason they don't buy additional insurance or increase the coverage amounts on existing policies.

A perception of low risk was another reason cited for not increasing or adding coverage, and people's experiences seem to support this perception. Only 14% of respondents said they have ever made a claim due to renting or providing goods or services. When claims do happen, 98% of respondents said that their claims were resolved, though 35% said the "claim was resolved but took a lot of time."

Navigating the increasingly challenging short-term rental environment

Staci Carlson, 36, of Baldwin City, Kansas, was familiar with Airbnb as a renter — though with mixed experiences. "My husband and I have a group of friends from all over the United States, and we come together online and play video games together. We thought it would be a good idea for all of us to meet up in person and get to know each other since we've been talking for over three years," Carlson recounts. "We planned that in the beginning of 2019 for an Airbnb in Florida. When COVID hit during early 2020, we intended to keep our booking, but a month before we were ready to go, the host canceled. They wouldn't respond to messages, and we had to scramble to find another host."

Carlson received a full refund and was able to rebook with another host. "That was where the good experience came in. Our budget was pretty fixed because we had gotten buy-in from everybody attending. I messaged some owners who were slightly above our budget, asking if they could provide a discount, being that it was a last-minute booking. We did eventually get a booking that way, and we were really thrilled about it. The house was a lot nicer, and we got it for the same price as the canceled house."

Then, in 2022, Carlson and her husband bought a two-story home to offer their rental on Airbnb. The home had a space with its own entrance, separated from the rest of the house — a perfect situation. "We originally thought we were going to rent it out full-time, but, as time wore on, we just realized we didn't want somebody living down there permanently," Carlson says. "I'm originally from Michigan, so I've got family that comes into town once or twice a year. It'd just be nice to have it open for those times and fully furnished. So it just made sense to do Airbnb or short-term rentals to fill it at other times."

Getting approval for a short-term rental has become more complicated nationwide as local municipalities have started passing new laws to regulate them. Carlson’s case is one of many examples of the increasing difficulty. "We have to apply for a conditional use permit," she explains. "Once we're approved, that permit is good indefinitely until we sell the house. However, we have to notify every single one of our neighbors within 1,000 feet of our house. Then, those within 200 feet have the largest sway. But it goes to a city board hearing where the public can speak up against it. They could also call or email the city administrator. And then once it goes through that, it goes through the city council once again, where they can override the result that they came to during the hearing."

So, for the Carlsons, Airbnb won’t be a main source of income or even a side hustle. They may make a little money on it, and one of the platform’s features can help them protect their investment. "What made us decide to use Airbnb is the fact that they offer insurance for each rental," Carlson says. "At the time that we decided to do it, we weren't sure how much it was going to raise our insurance premium [with their own homeowners insurance provider]. We liked the protection that Airbnb gave us as far as the insurance and also the ability to mediate if things went awry with a rental."

The future of the sharing economy

In 2017, the Brookings Institution claimed that the global sharing economy was "estimated to grow from $14 billion in 2014 to $335 billion by 2025," with most of that growth projected for Airbnb and Uber. Since then, as the sharing economy has expanded into other segments like food delivery, the projections of growth have accelerated, with the sharing economy now estimated to exceed $790 billion by 2028.

The short-term rental market is currently undergoing a period of maturation, with more reports of communities passing laws that limit the number of short-term rentals available, the amount of time a rental may last, and even how owners are required to manage these properties. Despite these changes, the short-term rental market is still projected for global growth, from approximately $100 billion in 2022 to $229 billion in 2030.

The respondents in our survey reflected those projections in direct terms, with most renters and providers reporting that their use of the sharing economy either stayed the same or increased in the past year.

Looking further ahead, 78% of all respondents say they expect the sharing economy to grow and evolve in the coming years. Just over half of respondents believe that using these third-party sharing platforms will become more mainstream, and 38% believe they will become more regulated by government entities. The latter suggests that people believe these platforms will become an important enough part of the overall economy to warrant increased community attention and legislative action.

Considering how positively the sharing economy is perceived — even as our survey suggests that most Americans have yet to participate in it — these third-party platforms seem positioned to achieve the optimistic growth projections of industry analysts.

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Ready to join the sharing economy? Check out our resources for everything you need to know about participating in the sharing economy – whether it’s driving for a rideshare app, renting someone else’s car, or listing your home on a short-term rentals site.