Freelance job opportunities are growing rapidly, new data shows.

A survey by the online employment website Elance revealed that nearly 60 percent of freelance workers increased their income in 2012, with the average earning nearly 50 percent more than a year ago. In addition, more than two-thirds of those surveyed are projecting their income to increase even more in 2013.  The average freelancer is expected to take home an additional 40 percent next year.

Fabio Rosati, president and CEO of Elance, said online work opportunities have come into their own.

"In just a few short years, freelancing has gone from a last-resort option to a lucrative and fulfilling career," Rosati said.  "As a 'business of one,' your potential is no longer constrained by where you live or the corporate hierarchy."

The research shows the uncertain economy is not impacting online work, with 42 percent of freelancers getting hired for more jobs than a year ago. That's expected to translate into more jobs for all, as more than 40 percent of independent professionals plan to hire other freelancers to build their businesses in 2013, according to the study.

Freelance positions that the survey projects to experience the most growth in 2013 include:

The study found that independent professionals, who on average work on between two and six projects at a time, prefer this new way of working, with nearly 70 percent claiming they are happier and 79 percent saying they're more productive working as a freelancer than as a full-time employee.

The research revealed that millennials are turning to online work faster than any other age segment. Of those surveyed, 46 percent of millennials freelance full-time, while 26 percent have a full-time job and freelance on the side. Millennials also are more optimistic about their freelance career; 71 percent said they expect their income to increase in the next year, according to the study.

The research was based on surveys of more than 3,000 freelance professionals.

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