University of Limerick
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Choices and constraints in female self-employment: an investigation into the income and working conditions of self-employed women in Ireland 2003-2017

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posted on 2023-01-19, 11:34 authored by Lauren Bari
There is a popular perception that self-employment, freelance work and small-business entrepreneurship offer increased flexibility and autonomy in working conditions compared to wage-and-salaried employment. In this sense, selfemployment is seen as offering a potential solution to some of the work-care dilemmas faced by women. Self-employment is promoted in policy and discourse at national and regional levels, with measures aimed at facilitating small business ownership for women and narrowing the gender gap in entrepreneurial participation. This research looks at self-employment from a different perspective. It asks whether, if self-employment is flexible and if the self-employed do have higher levels of autonomy over their working conditions, how might this manifest itself in terms of gendered trends? After all, women in Ireland are responsible for the bulk of unpaid domestic and caring work. Thus if flexibility is gendered and if self-employment is more flexible, this research asks whether gender gaps in the wider labour market in terms of income and working conditions might be reflected, or indeed exacerbated, among the self-employed. Through an examination of two large, nationally representative datasets for Ireland, the Labour Force Survey and the Survey on Income and Living Conditions, this research develops a profile of self-employed women in Ireland. Gender differences in working and income trends among the self-employed are observed and tested and comparisons are made with wage-and-salaried workers. The data reveal that despite very high levels of educational and professional human capital, self-employed women are more likely to opt for flexible working arrangements than their male and wage-and-salaried counterparts. An annual gender income gap in self-employment of 29 percent is uncovered and the data suggest that working time and the differing effects of parenthood on income for men and women are among the causes of this gap. Human capital attributes widen the income differences between selfemployed women and men and exacerbate the gendered effects of parenthood. These findings suggest that the flexibility of self-employment facilitates a gendered division of labour. It points towards a situation in which professional women in Ireland are seeking greater flexibility and control over working time and conditions not available in wage-and-salaried work.



  • Kemmy Business School


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Turner, Thomas

Second supervisor

O'Sullivan, Michelle





Department or School

  • Work and Employment Studies

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