Rural Women's Self-Employment: A Look at Pennsylvania

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The quantity and quality of rural jobs have been seriously affected by problems such as sagging farm economies, decreases in rural industries, and increased foreign competition, leading many workers to migrate to more urbanized areas. Other workers may choose self-employment over relocation. Women, in particular, may have difficulty finding suitable jobs in rural areas because of their need to balance work and family obligations. Rural areas in general are often considered economically disadvantaged due to problems such as lower levels of capital, less-developed infrastructure, and fewer resources/business services. These factors would logically create difficulties for entrepreneurs and small business owners and therefore discourage business start-ups. However, interviews with some rural women in Pennsylvania have revealed that rural areas may be more conducive to small business start-ups. This study examines the levels of self-employment by comparing the rates of self-employment for women and men in rural (non-metropolitan) and metropolitan areas within Pennsylvania, the state with the highest number of rural residents.

INTRODUCTION

Pennsylvania boasts a population of more than 12.5 million people. Of these, almost 340,000 were self-employed, 110,000 of which were women (Pennsylvania State Data Center, 2005). Although Pennsylvania ranks 6th in the US in terms of total population, it ranks 1st in rural population, with approximately 2 million non-metropolitan residents. Of its 67 counties, 35 are designated as non-metropolitan. Pennsylvania, therefore, is a very appropriate choice for a comparison of self-employed rural and urban women and men. As will be discussed later, rural and non-metropolitan have different technical meanings. However, for the purposes of this study these will be used synonymously, as will the terms urban and metropolitan.

Rural areas are often considered economically disadvantaged because of their lower levels of development and limited work opportunities (Fendley & Christenson, 1989; Kale, 1989; MacKenzie, 1992; Mueller, 1988; Osborne, 1987; Small Business Administration [SBA], 2001; Tigges & Green, 1994; Trucker & Lockhart, 1989). Areas that boast many high-value entrepreneurs are generally found around urban cores that feature needed capital (human as well as financial) and infrastructure (Low, Henderson & Weiler, 2005). Rural women in particular "have been an economically disadvantaged group historically" and face restricted employment opportunities (Lichter, 1989, p. 199,200).

Despite these problems, some studies (Jack & Anderson, 2002; Robinson, 2001; Tosterud & Habbershon, 1992) have found that rural residents do not necessarily view their location as a disadvantage. Entrepreneurship provides rural residents an avenue for financial improvement and independence without giving up their unique and traditional way of life (Tosterud & Habbershon, 1992). Kilkenny, Nalbarte, and Besser (1999) state that a business owner may feel successful even with a low income if the quality of life in the community is high. Taking population into consideration, Clark and James (1992) found the rate of business ownership to be higher in nonmetro areas with low populations.

This study further explores this issue by using Census 2000 data to determine if there is a difference in women's self-employment rates in metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties of Pennsylvania, and compares them to men's. The following section reviews the literature on rural and women-owned businesses. The results of this study are then presented and analyzed.

CHALLENGES FOR RURAL BUSINESS OWNERS

The quantity and quality of jobs in rural areas have been seriously affected by problems such as sagging rural farm economies, increased foreign competition, and decreases in rural industries (Lichter, 1989). Economic decline has led many workers to migrate to urban areas, decreasing the population and purchasing power in rural areas. …