Research on Women Business Owners: Past Trends, a New Perspective and Future Directions

By Brush, Candida G. | Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, Summer 1992 | Go to article overview

Research on Women Business Owners: Past Trends, a New Perspective and Future Directions


Brush, Candida G., Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice


noted internationally. Each approach has different structural considerations, obstacles, and outcomes. Further consideration of these should provide insights into possible changes in public policy and assistance programs.

The number of women business owners is expected to increase rapidly in the next decade and they are expected to make a great impact on the workplace (The State of Small Business, 1990; Nelton, 1990b). For researchers, it is time to use a new lens to guide our research on the activities of women business owners and recognize a view that considers the integrated nature of relationships important to women business owners. The increase in women business owners(1) is apparent in the U.S. economy. Since 1970, the percentage of businesses owned by women has increased from 5% to 30%, (New Economic Realities, 1988), representing nearly three million of the nation's 12 million small businesses (Report to the President, 1985). According to the Internal Revenue Service, from 1977-1985, the number of women-owned sole proprietorships nearly doubled from 1.9 million to 3.3 million, an increase of about 9.4% per year versus 4.3% for men during the same period (New Economic Realities, 1988). Estimates are that women are starting businesses at a rate more than twice that of men (New Economic Realities, 1988). Similarly, a recent survey released by the Census Bureau notes that the number of women-owned firms has increased from 2.6 million in 1982 to 4.1 million in 1987; a 57% increase (Nation's Business, April, 1991).

Even though a smaller percentage of women are self-employed overall, about 8.6% versus 14.6% for men (Haber, Lamas, & Lichtenstein, 1987), women-owned businesses are contributing revenues, services, and jobs to the economy. It was estimated in 1988 that women-owned businesses had contributed more than $250 billion to the national economy by 1983 (New Economic Realities, 1988). Gross receipts of women-owned businesses are on the increase as well, rising from a .3% ($23 billion) contribution to national gross receipts in 1972, to more than 10% ($98 billion) in 1986 (Thierren, Carson, Hamilton, & Hurlock, 1986). Similarly, the SBA reports that receipts from women-owned sole proprietorships grew by $31 billion between 1977 and 1987 compared to a decline of over $8 billion for men (The State of Small Business, 1990).

Despite the tremendous growth in the number of women-owned enterprises and their increasing aggregate impact on society and the economy, there are few studies researching women business owners in general, comparing them to other groups of employed or non-working women, or comparing them to men. Most of the research to date on business ownership has focused on males (Collins & Moore, 1964; Roberts, 1968; Hornaday & Aboud, 1971; Kent, Sexton, & Vesper, 1982). This is not surprising since a higher percentage of men have started and operated their own businesses. Even though women have owned their own enterprises throughout history (Anderson & Zinsser, 1988), public policy and popular press interest in the phenomenon of women as business owners is relatively recent.

Investigation of women business owners as academic research subjects developed during the past decade. The earliest studies emerged in the late 1970s, and sought to distinguish the psychological and sociological characteristics of women business owners from male business owners, assuming there were few differences between males and females (Schrier, 1975; Schwartz, 1976). Other studies focused on women in male-dominated industries (Hisrich & O'Brien, 1981).

The largest study in the U.S. was produced by the President's Interagency Task Force (The Bottom Line, 1979) and identified instances of discrimination and barriers encountered by women business owners in their attempts to start new businesses. Since the completion of this report, the topic of women business owners has emerged as an area of more popular interest and research effort. …

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