Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Influx of Women Spurs New Wave of Self-Employment

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Influx of Women Spurs New Wave of Self-Employment

Article excerpt

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The late 20th century has left quite a mark on the American labor force.

The very image of the worker has switched from blue-collar factory hand to white-collar sales clerk. Women have become almost as visible as men at work. And now, it turns out, the self-employed are making a comeback - mostly because so many women are choosing to work for themselves.

The big question is whether this new surge in self-employment, evident in Labor Department data since 1987, represents an improvement for those who have started their own businesses.

Researchers do not know yet, but one bit of evidence is striking. Women on their own, whatever their skills, education or race, earn less per hour on average than women drawing wages.

Self-employed men, in contrast, earn more than their jobholding male peers.

That nugget of information came to light in new research by Theresa J. Devine, a labor economist at Pennsylvania State University, who sifted through Labor Department data to pinpoint the self-employment trend and its various statistical characteristics.

Her findings and other calculations show that self-employment, after increasing smartly in the 1970s, leveled off in the mid-1980s, and strted to rise again in 1987.

``We had been a nation of independent shopkeepers and small farmers in the 19th century and then people felt that to get ahead they had to take jobs in factories and big corporations,'' said Rona Feit, senior fellow at the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a consulting and research organization. ``Now we're starting small businesses again.''

Devine, Feit and other experts say they can only guess at the reasons why men and women, and particularly women, are going out on their own in growing numbers.

Roughly 7 percent of all employed women are self-employed today, up from 5.9 percent in 1986, while for men the rise has been to about 12.5 percent from 11.8 percent in 1986. In most cases, the new proprietors do most of the work themselves, hiring few people to help.

Why do they do it? The speculation covers a variety of reasons.

On the positive side, many women apparently start their own businesses so they can work at home or near it, on flexible schedules, while they raise children.

Or they go out on their own to achieve an independence not possible in a corporate job.

Such conclusions are suggested in some of Devine's findings.

Three out of every four self-employed women, for example, are married and can risk self-employment because they have the security of health insurance from their husbands' jobs, Devine speculates. …

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