Abstract: Multiple Precarities and Gender Periphery: How Female Food Delivery Riders Survive and Thrive in a Male-Dominated Industry (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Multiple Precarities and Gender Periphery: How Female Food Delivery Riders Survive and Thrive in a Male-Dominated Industry

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Cheng Chow, PhD Student, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Huiyun Li, PhD student, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Dannuo Wei, PhD student, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Hui Hu, MSW, PhD student, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

The gig economy represented by food delivery industry primarily focused on the interaction between men and exploitative platforms; however, there is an increasing number of female riders whose presence is rarely explored. The scholarship of gender studies instead emphasizes (un)doing gender in such industry without addressing the multiple precarious situations encountered by this vulnerable group. This study attempts to fill that gap by illustrating how gender, family, and social roles are entangled for female riders, and how these unique experiences produce their survival strategies. Furthermore, the study provides implications for social work professions and policy changes based on their narratives and experiences.


Ten in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with female food delivery riders in Chinese mega cities with a developed delivery industry. To ensure the diversity and richness of information, we recruited participants through both offline and online contacts. We approached female riders in places where they frequently work such as shopping mall. We also invited females who had shared information about their work on social media platforms. Online interviews were conducted and each lasted around 45 minutes, allowing the participants to express their work experiences as riders, self-identification, c with customers, work-family reconciliation, and perceptions of gender differences. The data collected were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed thematically by the authors, guided by the principles of grounded theory and an inductive approach to qualitative analysis.


The data analysis shows that caring for children is the most essential incentive for becoming a food delivery driver since the participants needed more schedule flexibility. Nevertheless, the seemingly increase in flexibility comes at the cost of dehumidified digital control, marginalized social positions, and increased expectations as both caregivers and breadwinners. Recognizing that they face numerous obstacles, the respondents, however, attempt to normalize their alienated life by stating that gender makes no difference and putting gender-based consequences in a peripheral position. The study examines how disadvantageous gender roles, increased employment precarity, burgeoning digital alienation, and the extended motherhood penalty have posed challenges to female workers in post-socialist China. The multiple precarities discussed in this article reflect disempowerment, profound insecurity, and gendered division of labor due to the reorganization of workplace. This study also delineates four strategies that female riders employ to rationalize gender periphery: practicing combative masculinity, framing physical strength, constructing a discourse of normalization, and emphasizing familial responsibilities.

Conclusion and Implications:

There has been an expansion of employment opportunities for women in the food delivery sector, however female riders have been disempowered and marginalized as a result of multiple and invisible barriers. The findings have several implications for various stakeholders. The social work profession may offer empowerment education and support to female riders, assisting them to better understand their social positions and labor rights. Social service organizations can introduce female riders to related resources, such as legal aids. We finally advocate for policy changes that address gender inequality and reduce precarious employment in the platform economy to support career development and training opportunities for underserved and marginalized female workers.