Family and Gender Disparities in Self-employment


Studies have shown that women and men turn to self-employment for different reasons. For women especially, it can be used to address conflicts between family and work obligations, especially when support systems are lacking. Thus, when faced with heightened pressure to balance family responsibilities and employment, self-employment can serve as an alternative to exiting the workforce altogether. Recognizing self-employment as a viable option and examining its factors under different contexts can contribute to our understanding of family and gender inequality in the labor market. Three projects are currently in progress under this topic, each focusing on:

Gender, family status, and heterogeneity in self-employment in the United States

The gender gap in self-employment in the US has persisted for decades. This study delves into the complexity of self-employment, building upon existing literature that hints at gender-specific motivations: women often seek self-employment for its flexibility, while men tend to pursue entrepreneurial ventures. Using three decades of Contingent Work Supplement data and employing cluster analysis, I identify five distinct self-employment categories. Preliminary findings suggest that male breadwinner norms for married fathers and the need for a high degree of flexibility and economic resources for unmarried mothers may shape how individuals sort into specific self-employment typologies. These results provide a more in-depth understanding of gender disparities within self-employment, especially related to family status.

Taking a couple-level perspective on transition to self-employment

Examining couples as joint decision-makers offers valuable insights into gender disparities, yet the literature has largely overlooked the transition to a key alternative work arrangement: self-employment. Although research on self-employment has identified various factors related to women’s self-employment decisions, including the need for flexible work arrangements, the specific role of couples in this decision-making process has been underexplored. 

I leverage couple-matched data from the 1994-2020 Current Population Survey (also see Musick and Jeong) to investigate how the collective decisions of couples are linked to the shift towards self-employment. Furthermore, it delves into how these patterns are moderated by parenthood and occupational status, acknowledging that the need for family-work balance and the ability to achieve it can differ based on these factors. 

The findings reveal that the likelihood of wives transitioning to wage to self-employment is significantly shaped by their husbands’ long work hours. By contrast, transitioning from not working is not associated with partner’s work commitment. This trend remains consistent regardless of parenthood status but is significantly less pronounced among women in managerial and professional occupations. 

These results highlight the importance of considering self-employment in the context of couples’ decision-making dynamics, illustrating how these decisions are intertwined with broader issues of family-work balance and occupational roles.