Businesses owned by women increase, exceed male-owned firms in hiring

Private businesses owned by women have grown in number and hired more workers than male-owned businesses, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The report also found such firms lag behind male-owned businesses in financial capital, revenue and salaries.

The number of companies owned by women grew by 44% to 7.8 million from 1997 to 2007, compared with a 22% increase in firms owned by men, the Commerce Department report found. Male-owned firms in 2007 totaled 13.9 million.

The Commerce Department also found women in business added 500,000 workers to their payrolls while firms owned by men shed almost 2 million jobs during the period. As of 2007, the latest year that full U.S. Census Bureau data were available, women-owned businesses employed 7.6 million workers.

"The good news is that women-owned businesses have actually been growing over the last decade and actually growing faster than men-owned private businesses," said Rebecca Blank, the Commerce's Department's undersecretary for economic affairs. "There's clearly a sense here, if you look into the future, of an enormous growth opportunity for women-owned businesses in the private sector."

Blank also pointed to challenges in the data. Businesses owned by women are "likely to be smaller, more likely to fail, and different from businesses owned by men along a variety of measures," the report said. Those firms have lower levels of financial capital, use less outsider debt, generate less revenue and pay their workers smaller salaries.

"In virtually every dimension, women-owned businesses lag far behind men-owned businesses," Blank said.

The expansion of women-owned businesses from 1997 to 2007 followed a general shift in the U.S. job market. Healthcare and education-related jobs expanded, while manufacturing and construction employment shrank, according to the report.

Blank said women entrepreneurs have concentrated in health and education — and they benefited as those areas grew even during the recession. Data beyond 2007, when it becomes available, may reflect stronger growth in women-owned businesses, Blank said.

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