Women and Self Employment –Why?

Since the 1990s, the impact of gender upon women’s entrepreneurial activity has become an issue of interest and importance. Much attention has been afforded to evidence that, in advanced economies, women are far less likely to become entrepreneurs; thus, a basic tenet of related research and policy has to been to find avenues to encourage more women to become self-employed. This quest has absorbed much attention and many resources; yet, women’s overall share of self employment has changed little over the intervening years due to high churn. In considering why this is the case, we suggest that whilst the myriad of initiatives may have channelled more women into entrepreneurship, many quickly exit due to poor returns and working conditions. Thus, there is little gendered detriment in women’s entrepreneurial propensity but considerable detriment attached to self-employment compared to waged employment; this became very apparent during the recent COVID pandemic. This raises the issue of why we persist in presenting self-employment as a desirable and empowering form of economic participation for women.