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Why The Sharing Economy Is Growing

People get into it for the money, but they stay with it for love.

Most people who share, do it because they want to make the world a better place, according to a new national survey commissioned by AirBnb.

The sharing economy has an estimated $26 billion value, including online platforms that make it easy to do everything from renting out spare rooms in your home (AirBnb) to carsharing (Zipcar), clothing swaps (ThredUP), even sharing extra portions from homecooked meals ( Shareyourmeal, of course).

This new survey gets at the motivations behind sharing, as well as the future of the market. Not surprisingly, adults under 35 are the most digitally savvy and therefore the most likely to have participated in sharing or renting online rather than owning. Most people (77%) see the sharing economy as a great way to save money, but among those who have actually tried it, the plurality, 36%, said their motivation was philosophical, not financial. Listing extra goods or a spare room online was seen as a way to help others and, for one in four, to promote sustainability as well.

It’s interesting to speculate on what these findings might mean for the future growth of sharing. On the one hand, any product or service that offers emotional benefits and becomes positively linked with one’s sense of self is likely to have staying power, producing strong brand loyalty. Over half of those who had participated in the sharing economy said they would recommend it to others.

On the other hand, if the sharing economy becomes too linked to a particular philosophy or outlook on life, it could be doomed to remain a niche activity or a passing trend. Research on self-identified "green" consumers, for example, indicates that interest dipped after the 2008 economic crash. In order for the sharing economy to move beyond true believers, these brands may want to stick to being the smart thing to do, instead of just the right thing to do.