Noam Scheiber, reporting for the New York Times, reviewed the work of different studies of Uber and Lyft driver pay. A recent Cornell study, which Uber and Lyft paid for, found median driver earnings in Seattle were over $23 per hour, even after deducting expenses. However, a New School study, also of Seattle Uber and Lyft drivers, found that they made just $9.73 per hour after expenses. The latter study was commissioned by the City of Seattle Office of Labor Standards.
Scholars typically obtain such data in two ways: They approach the company with a research question they would like to answer; one recent paper in this vein examined the wage gap between male and female Uber drivers, and another sought to put a value on the flexibility of working for Uber. Or the companies can approach scholars with a question they want answered, as with the Cornell study.
When the scholars are faculty members at an academic institution, the companies typically cede editorial control to them.
But the process still tends to skew what we know about the companies, Mr. Zingales said, because companies are unlikely to approve the release of data for a study, or approach a scholar with data, if they believe the conclusion is likely to reflect poorly on them. One such study, he has noted, recently asked whether traffic fatalities increase after Uber and Lyft start operating in a city, for which the companies did not provide detailed data.
Studies commissioned by sponsors with an interest in its findings are certainly not guaranteed a favourable result. But the conclusions drawn from a single study must be placed in a greater context — most studies are finding that gig economy drivers are earning less than $20 per hour, especially after expenses, so the more positive Cornell study stands out.