The History Of Hustling: A Look Into The Rise Of Side Hustle Culture

Published on May 24, 2024, 3:11 pm
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In recent years, the term “side hustle” has gained universal traction amongst those who wish to supplement their income. So much so that this represents a large shift in the contemporary commercial landscape. However, the side hustle, simply characterized by individuals taking on additional work outside their primary jobs, is by no means a new phenomenon. Recent changes in technology, societal values, and the economy have caused a surge in side hustles. But what preceded this surge, and what will come next? Taking cues from online MBA programs, this article will attempt to tackle these questions.

Early Beginnings: The Necessity of Multiple Jobs

The idea of taking on multiple jobs is certainly not new. In agrarian societies, it was common for individuals to supplement their primary farming work with other forms of labor, such as weaving, blacksmithing, or trading goods. These secondary incomes largely parallel modern side hustles. However, these early side hustles were often driven by necessity, as families needed to diversify their income sources to ensure survival and stability.

As society shifted into the industrial revolution, the nature of work changed dramatically. Urbanization and the rise of factory jobs led to a more structured labor market. Large amounts of capital accumulated by the few owners of productive assets. As such, labor conditions slumped, economic instability increased, and wages decreased. As a result, workers were often required to seek additional employment. This usually took the form of extra shifts or finding work in emerging industries like transportation or retail.

The 20th Century: From Moonlighting to the Gig Economy

Progressing towards the middle of the 20th century, many individuals began to engage in what came to be known as “moonlighting”.  This described people who worked a second job at night in addition to their daytime employment.

The causes for this phenomenon varied, but one major difference from the previous centuries was the rampant rise of consumerism. Economies were performing well, and while many people still struggled to make ends meet, lots of people were making lots of money. As such, moonlighting was common among professionals and blue-collar workers alike, reflecting a widespread need to boost income.

The late 20th century witnessed the beginning of what we now recognize as the gig economy. The advent of freelance work, driven by advancements in technology and changes in the labor market, allowed more people to pursue independent work opportunities. Many people were developing marketable skills in technology. Moreover, many people began to get tired of the now stale 9-5. As such, they turned to freelance. This provided flexibility and autonomy, enabling individuals to leverage their skills and passions in new ways. The internet played a crucial role, offering platforms for remote work and connecting freelancers with clients worldwide.

The Digital Age: Catalyzing the Side Hustle Boom

The turn of the 21st century marked a significant shift in the landscape of side hustles. The proliferation of digital technology and the advent of the internet has allowed people new methods to develop products and new markets to sell them. For instance, online platforms such as eBay, Craigslist, and Etsy, have allowed individuals and smaller companies to find customers. Soon after, the rise of social media and the sharing economy brought about new opportunities for side hustles.

Social media, for example, allows new avenues for brand development.  Strategically crafting and maintaining a consistent, engaging online presence is now profitable via advertisement revenue. Large companies have found social media platforms to provide relatively inexpensive access to large samples of their market. As such, individuals who can culminate an audience of that sample market essentially become investments for larger companies.

Platforms like Uber, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit emerged, enabling individuals to monetize their assets and skills in unprecedented ways. As such, the gig economy, which was born in the previous century, expanded rapidly and now offers a wide range of flexible work options. Whether driving for a ride-sharing service, renting out a spare room, or completing odd jobs, people could now easily supplement their income through digital means.

On the social front, the cultural perception of side hustles also began to change. Where in previous centuries side hustles were a necessary supplement to an individual’s income, now they are viewed as a means towards financial success and independence. In past generations someone who supplemented their income was a moonlighter, now they are a “sidepreneur” – i.e.,  an individual who runs a business alongside their primary job.

The Modern Side Hustle Movement

In the past decade, the side hustle culture has exploded in popularity. Several factors have contributed to this phenomenon. Economic uncertainty, particularly in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the CoViD-19 pandemic, has driven many to seek additional income streams. The gig economy has grown to approximately 36% in the US, and the story is similar in other developed economies. 

Additionally, in the post-CoViD-19 world, the nature of work has also changed drastically. Many workers cut deals with their employers to gain some amount of remote work. This has freed up time to pursue alternative incomes – i.e., side hustles. This shift has been especially pronounced among younger generations, who prioritize flexibility, autonomy, and diverse career paths.

There has also been a substantial cultural embrace of side hustles. Information about how to start a small business, or supplement your income, has found a home in books, podcasts, and social media. The increased dissemination of this information has significantly contributed to the prevalence of side hustles.

The Future of Side Hustles

Looking ahead, the side hustle culture shows no signs of slowing down. The continued evolution of technology and the gig economy will likely create new opportunities and challenges. As automation and artificial intelligence reshape the labor market, side hustles may become even more integral to financial stability and career development.

The history of the side hustle is a testament to humanity’s ability to adapt and overcome hardship. It is also a testament to our ability to extend ourselves beyond what is necessary. As side hustle culture continues to grow, it will undoubtedly shape the future of work, offering both opportunities and challenges for individuals and society as a whole.

Jonas Bronck is the pseudonym under which we publish and manage the content and operations of The Bronx Daily.™ | - the largest daily news publication in the borough of "the" Bronx with over 1.5 million annual readers. Publishing under the alias Jonas Bronck is our humble way of paying tribute to the person, whose name lives on in the name of our beloved borough.