Gender and the Sharing Economy

Schoenbaum, Naomi
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper

While the sharing economy has been celebrated as a flexible alternative to traditional employment for those with family responsibilities, especially women, it presents challenges for gender equality. Many of the services that are “shared” take place in the context of intimacy, which can have substantial consequences for transacting, particularly by enhancing the importance of identity of both the worker and the customer. Expanding on previous research on intimate work — a critical area that exists largely in limbo between the law of the market and the law of the family — this Article, written for the Cooper-Walsh Colloquium, explores the significance of intimacy in the sharing economy and the implications for its regulation of the sharing economy and for sex equality. It argues that the intimacy of many sharing economy transactions heightens the salience of sex to these transactions, in tension with sex discrimination law’s goal of reducing the salience of sex in the labor market. But even if existing sex discrimination law extends to these transactions, the intimacy of the transactions again limits the law’s ability to promote gender equality in the same transformative way that it has in the traditional economy. The sharing economy thus raises serious concerns for proponents of sex equality.