A recent study conducted by Brunel Business School sheds light on a significant gender divide in the realm of entrepreneurship, uncovering that childcare costs are a driving force behind mothers venturing into self-employment.

The research, based on a decade of UK data, explores work trends among couples aged 21 to 55, up until the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The findings reveal that marriage substantially increases the likelihood of both men and women establishing their own businesses.

However, for women, the pivotal moments for transitioning into entrepreneurship are linked to having a second child or being in a relationship with a partner working long hours, according to a paper published in Entrepreneurship and Regional Development.

Professor Shireen Kanji, an expert in Work and Organisation at Brunel University London, emphasised, “Having children is having a causal effect on women moving into self-employment. But it’s not having that effect for men. It is a very gendered effect. Both men and women value flexibility in self-employment, but women are taking that flexibility so that they can look after their children.”

Childcare costs

The study underscores the interconnected lives of couples, highlighting the substantial influence partners and other household members wield over each other’s work choices. “Couples lead interlinked lives. They’re not just individuals out there in the labor market. Couples’ lives are very much constrained or enabled by what other members of the household do,” stresses Prof Kanji.

The research points out that some of the highest childcare costs in Europe, combined with a shortage of available spaces and inadequate government investment, severely limit work options for women in the UK. The gender pay gap and a higher prevalence of women working part-time further compound these challenges. The number of children also emerges as a limiting factor, influencing the type of work women undertake when they decide to start their own businesses.

What does the future look like?

Professor Kanji suggests that government incentives to foster high-growth businesses, similar to those observed in some Nordic countries, could provide a solution. Access to finance remains a critical challenge for women looking to establish their own businesses.

“This work shows there’s still a major problem for women in reconciling work and care when they have children. It is important because understanding the gendered nature of linkages deepens what we know about self-employment, entrepreneurship, and gender inequality in the labour market and how these interlink,” concludes Prof Kanji.

As the study unveils these insights, it prompts a broader conversation about the need for targeted policies and support mechanisms to address the unique challenges faced by women in entrepreneurship, particularly concerning work-life balance and access to resources.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.