What Women Own: U.S. Business Edition; How the 1% meme obscures global inequality

What women own: U.S. business edition

by Philip N. Cohen

The other day President Obama celebrated women owning businesses, as well as the problems they face:

More women are also choosing to strike out on their own.  Today, nearly 30 percent of small business owners are women.  Their businesses generate $1.2 trillion last year. But they’re less likely to get the loans that they need to start up, or expand or to hire — which means they often have to depend on credit cards and the mounting debt that comes with them.

Those figures come from data I already was looking at on the question of whatwomen own globally. Most recently, I took a shot at home ownership, with the surprising (to me) finding that women own (or are buying) more homes than men in America. No such luck with business ownership.

Women do own 29% of businesses, as of the Census Bureau’s 2007 Survey of Business Owners. But their share of business receipts — the total size of businesses, as measured by income — is much less: just 4%.

Source: My calculations from the Survey of Business Owners.

The survey defines ownership based on 51% of stock or equity.  So of course there are lots of women with partial ownership of all those other businesses. But the vast majority of businesses in the survey are tiny, with few or no employees. As a measure of wealth, then, owning a business is a bad indicator. Plenty of these people would make more money using their skills working for someone else, if they could (and investing their money in stocks).

Unsurprisingly, there is a distinct pattern of ownership by industry — that is, what the businesses produce. The only industry in which women own a majority of businesses is health care and social assistance, although they are also close in education (think daycare services):

Source: My calculations from the Survey of Business Owners.

Obama went on:

Just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.  Fewer than 20 percent of the seats in Congress are occupied by women.  Is it possible that Congress would get more done if there were more women in Congress?  (Laughter and applause.)  … I think it’s fair to say.  That is almost guaranteed.  (Laughter.)

For some reason this is often a laugh line. As in, “Am I right? Just ask my wife!”

Anyway, I would hate to judge Congressional effectiveness by the quantity of work done, and the evidence that women in Congress do get more done is not clear. But in the world of business our own research (here and here), as well asnewer work, does suggest that U.S. women in workplace management positions increase the gender equality around them.



How the 1% meme obscures global inequality

by Philip N. Cohen

One irony of the 1% meme — the myth that women only earn 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of all property — is that it presents as a statement of global gender solidarity, while undermining true understanding of global inequality.

In my first post on this, I pointed to how a few relatively rich women (that is, all US women), disprove the 1% meme’s message that women share a condition of economic deprivation:

In the U.S. in 2009, the 106 million women have incomes averaged $29,700 each. I think that’s $3.2 trillion. The whole world’s gross domestic product — a rough measure of total income — is $58.1 trillion. So, it looks to me like U.S. women alone earn 5.4% of world income today.

Later, I showed that American women — in fact, single American women alone — own more than 1% of the world’s wealth.

What about home ownership?

Homes are the main repository of wealth in middle class America. I haven’t found a study on the gender composition of home ownership. Partly, as with land ownership, it’s impossible to say because so many homes are owned by various collectivities — mostly married couples, banks and the state.

But the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey questionnaire asks which homes are owned by their residents (with or without a mortgage) versus rented. And it identifies the person in each household “in whose name this house or apartment is owned, being bought, or rented.” That person is called the “householder.” In an owned home, it’s reasonable to say that person is the owner. If the person is married, I assume the couple owns the home together. From the 2010 ACS, then, here is the breakdown of who owns the 75 million “owned” homes:

This shows that women are the homeowners (living alone, or living as a householder with no spouse) in 24% of owned homes, compared with 15% for men. If we assume the married-couple owned homes are equally owned by men and women, then women own more homes in the US than men do.

When well-meaning feminists spread the meme that women only own 1% of the world’s property, in the name of global solidarity, they conceal the vast inequality between women in rich versus poor countries.

There is economic inequality between men and women, but gender is not class. And woman does not equal poor.


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