- Proportion of women early-stage entrepreneurs jumped 45% between 2003-6 and 2013-16
- Men still twice as likely as women to start a business overall, but some UK regions such as Scotland are seeing greater balance as women catch up
- UK above European average in international league tables for female early-stage entrepreneurship, with Canada taking top spot among advanced economies
The UK has witnessed a rapid rise in the number of start-ups in recent years. But the number of new female entrepreneurs in the UK has risen far faster than men in the past decade.
The GEM UK 2016 report, published by the University of Strathclyde and Aston University, shows that between 2003-6 and 2013-16, the proportion of women that went into business rose by 45%, compared to just 27% among men. Overall, however, men are still nearly twice as likely to be entrepreneurs (10.4% of men versus 5.5% of women).
Across both sexes, the 2016 UK early-stage entrepreneurship rate was significantly higher than 2015, and again exceeded the previous long-run rate of around 6% which prevailed until 2010. The UK rate of 8.8% compares favourably to France (5.3%) and Germany (4.6%) - confirming the UK as the start-up capital of Europe. But this is still significantly lower than that of the US (12.6%).
At the global level, the UK’s rates of female early-stage entrepreneurship remain well below many other advanced economies. Canada has the highest absolute rate of female early-stage entrepreneurs at 11.6%, while Spain has the closest male/female ratio of any developed economy, with 74 Spanish women entrepreneurs for every 100 men, compared to 53 for the UK.
Many developing economies display even higher rates of female entrepreneurship. In Ecuador, 31.9% of women are entrepreneurs, while other Latin American and South East Asian nations dominate the top spots. Indonesia and Brazil are the only GEM-participant countries where there are more female entrepreneurs than male.
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Dr Karen Bonner, senior researcher at Aston Business School, said the reasons behind the continuing disparity between male and female entrepreneurship rates were complex:
“On the one hand, we could point to different societal expectations, with women still taking on the bulk of unpaid caring roles and entrepreneurship still stereotyped as a ‘male’ career choice in our wider culture,” she said.
“When asked why they started their business women are significantly more likely to cite ‘greater flexibility for my personal and family life’ and the desire for ‘freedom to adapt my own approach to work’ than men. But despite these differences, and controlling for other factors like sector, age and start-up capital, both men and women display similar levels of ambition when it comes to growing their businesses.
“We also observe a tendency for women generally to be more risk-averse which may make them self-select out of entrepreneurship, particularly in places where there are ‘safer’ employment options that allow them to work more flexibly around caring responsibilities. This would help to explain why places like Northern Ireland and the North East of England, with relatively high proportions of public sector jobs, have low start-up rates for both men and women.”
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Mark Hart, Professor of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at Aston Business School, added:
“It’s encouraging that more women are seeing entrepreneurship as a career option and a route to financial independence and that may be a reflection of a more supportive ecosystem and private sector led initiatives to highlight the success of female role models in business.”
Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility, Margot James said:
“Supporting innovation and entrepreneurs is a central pillar of this Government’s Industrial Strategy, so it is great to see more women throughout the country engaging in entrepreneurship in Britain.
“The UK remains among the best places in Europe to start a business, but we must continue working to ensure that this positive trend continues. From reducing corporation tax rates to providing £3.4 billion in finance through the British Business Bank, we know small business support is key to building a strong and thriving economy.”