Before comparing small businesses owned by men versus those owned by women, let’s establish some ground rules. First, it’s not a competition with a “winner” and a “loser.” And, going in, we know all things are not equal. For example, access to capital remains a significant challenge for women business owners. In fact, 29% of women small business owners surveyed by Bank of America don’t think they’ll ever gain equal access to capital. But, on average, women entrepreneurs believe they’ll have equal access by 2031.
There’s not one data source that shows all the relevant statistics about small businesses in general and specific breakdowns by gender. So below, you’ll find information comparing women- and men-owned small businesses from various sources.
Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, small business startups seemed stuck in low gear. For instance, between 2018-2019, new startups grew by 0.4%—not even half a percentage point. But the pandemic unleashed a flood of business starts:
|Year||Number of Businesses||Percentage of Growth|
Even though starts fell in 2022, given that more than 5 million businesses began that year, there’s not much concern about the slight dip.
In 2021, women started more businesses (49%) than men (42%), according to a survey from Gusto. This is not surprising when you look at it from a historical perspective. Women laid off from their relatively newly-attained corporate jobs in the 1990s began starting small businesses at a record-breaking pace. And Pew Research reports that “the COVID-19 recession resulted in a steep but transitory contraction in employment, with greater job losses among women than men.”
That likely explains the disparity between men and women of the reasons they started a business. According to a survey from AIbees, 62% of women say the primary reason they started a business was to find autonomy and flexibility, while 54% of men cited that as their main reason.
But many more men (33%) than women (20%) were motivated to become entrepreneurs because they identified an opportunity. Men also had a slighter edge (28% vs. 24% for women) for starting because they developed a new product or service.
The Small Business Market
Overall, in its 2022 Small Business Profile, SBA Office of Advocacy, the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy says there are 33.2 million small businesses in the U.S., which is 99.9% of all businesses in the country. Men own 17,796,959 million of them, while women own 12,001,410. Another 1,507,754 are co-owned by women and men.
Small businesses are divided into two primary categories: employer firms and businesses without employees.
While men own three times as many businesses with employees than women:
- Women: 1,141,410
- Men: 3,496,959
- Co-owned by women and men: 860,754
the gap is much tighter for businesses without employees:
- Women: 10,860,000
- Men: 14,300,000
- Co-owned by men and women: 647,000
According to the Census Bureau’s Annual Business Survey (ABS), as reported by Forbes, women own more younger businesses than men do. Women own 75% of businesses that are 15 years old or younger, compared to men, who own 66% of them. But men own 34% of small businesses that are 16 years old or older, while women own 25% of them.
And when we say small business, we mean it. According to Ascent, Motley Fool, women-owned businesses have an average of eight employees, while companies owned by men employ an average of 12 workers.
Money & Finances
When it comes to money, simply put—businesses owned by men make more of it. Biz2Credit reports that in 2021, the average annual revenue for women-owned businesses was $475,707, while men-owned businesses made $675,643.
There’s also a disparity in credit scores—Biz2Credit’s Women-Owned Business Study, 2022 shows that women business owners’ average credit score was 580, while men’s was 594.
When it comes to borrowing money, women aren’t as aggressive as men. According to the Biz2Credit survey, in 2021, women borrowed an average of $49,712, compared to $83,198 borrowed by men. Part of that difference was likely due to the wide gap in the borrowing ratios (loans granted per number of loan applications). Biz2Credit reports that women only got 33% of the loans they applied for, while men got twice as many—67%. And Fundera says in 2020, men requested more money ($109,600) than women ($77,000).
The gap between men and women entrepreneurs who tried to raise money was truly eye-opening. AIbees reports that women raised much more money than men—when the amount raised was less than $10,000—64% vs. 14%. But men are twice as likely to have raised $100,000 or more than women.
Fundera reports that women enjoy more success when crowdfunding: 69.5% for women vs. 61.4% for men. But again, crowdfunding typically involves smaller amounts of money.
And the 2022 Annual Report from the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) reveals that most women (62.3%) who sought financing in 2020 did so to meet operating expenses as opposed to the men business owners (54.6%). More men (32.6%) than women (26.3%) wanted to borrow money to expand their businesses and seek new opportunities.
The biggest gap in financing occurs in the venture capital arena. TechCrunch reports a mere 1.9% of women-only teams seeking VC investments got funded in 2022, while about 80.9% of men-only teams received funding. And 17.1% of mixed-gender teams got VC investments.
This disparity is even more shocking when you see a Boston Consulting Group study that reveals that women entrepreneurs who get funding generate over twice as much in revenue per dollar invested as men entrepreneurs and generate 10% more revenue over five years, as reported in the NWBC annual report.
The 2022 Women & Minority Business Owner Spotlight from Bank of America shows the earning gap (and more) will likely remain intact this year. More men business owners (68%) than women (63%) expect to increase sales this year, plan to expand their companies (57% of men vs. 47% of women), hire new employees (44% of men, compared to 33% of women), get funding (87% of men vs. 79% of women entrepreneurs) and feel equipped to handle a possible recession (84% of men business owners vs. 71% of women business owners).
When I started covering small businesses decades ago, a woman-owned business was an anomaly. Remember that women didn’t even have the right to equal access to credit until 1974. So the fact that women today own about 36% of all small businesses in the U.S. is a significant accomplishment. So, yes, we’ve come a long way. But we have a long way yet to go.
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.