Why Women Entrepreneurs Are Happier Than Male Entrepreneurs

It might be a long road getting there, but once women are running their own businesses, they're happier than ever.

There's a lot being said out there about the state of women in this country. The gender gap is alive and well when it comes to salary, confidence, happiness, and the number of women in the C-suite and science. Women aren't as happy as they were in the 1970s, research has shown, and their happiness relative to that of men has taken a nosedive.

But it's not all doom and gloom. A recent study shows there's one career path in which women's perceived happiness is greater than men's: entrepreneurship.

One out of every 10 women in the U.S. today is starting or running her own business, according to a that came out in June. More than a third of those women want to expand their business beyond five employees.

In terms of age, the report found women are most likely to run or start a business between the ages of 35 and 44—a period in which moms are more likely to be taking care of young kids at home. The flexibility of entrepreneurship may very well attract such women during this hectic time in their lives. "Our research found that the benefits of entrepreneurship extend beyond economic and social value," Donna Kelley, Babson College associate professor of entrepreneurship and the lead author on the report said in a recent release. "Clearly, entrepreneurship provides women a most satisfying career choice."

The proof is in the numbers. Women with established businesses ranked their happiness nearly three times as high as women who are not entrepreneurs or established business owners, according to the report. What's more, on average, women entrepreneurs make more a year than those working for an employer—$63,000 as compared to $42,700 in the U.S. "Women entrepreneurs show a substantial boost in well-being as their businesses mature, demonstrating the personal return on investment that comes with venturing into entrepreneurship," says Kelley.

But that happiness doesn't translate for women just getting started with their business, who report lower levels of happiness than women working for an employer, though still slightly higher levels than men in the same position as them.

The reason for this may very well be the gender confidence gap, which Katty Kay and Claire Shipman wrote about earlier this year in The Atlantic. As women's businesses mature and become more successful, their levels of happiness surge. "Confidence is a belief in one’s ability to succeed, a belief that stimulates action. In turn, taking action bolsters one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed," they write. "So confidence accumulates—through hard work, through success, and even through failure."

And the links between confidence and happiness are plentiful. "The happiness-success link exists not only because success makes people happy, but also because positive affect engenders success," according to research published in The American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin.

The take-away: For women, entrepreneurial success may be the key to a happy career. And as more women start and run their own businesses, the world may just be a happier place.

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  • Thank you, Janet, for writing such an insightful article. I completely concur that there is a direct and powerful correlation between confidence (or self-esteem) and happiness. All too often women entrepreneurs doubt themselves and their abilities. However, I've found that often women are even more capable and dedicated than their male counterparts.

    As a successful woman entrepreneur, I proudly embrace the differences between my style of work-related communication and collaboration versus that of my male colleagues. Fortunately, I am both HAPPY and autonomous, which makes for a lovely combination.

  • Mathias Dahlmann

    Hmm ... I guess the take-away message holds also true when 'women' is substituted with 'people'. Anyway, if one is a 'own business' type of personality she/he should pursue that kind of career. If they don't feel like succeeding in it, they shouldn't be pushed. A good basis of being happy is, at least in my case, to decide at my own which way I go and how fast.

    ... and why the hell is the happiness of one group of human beings a reason to compete with the other group ... sounds like: Being happy counts less than being happier than YOU!!!

  • You may be missing the point Mathias. Because it's not an even playing field for women and men in the business world in general, the way the two genders seek happiness has to be different. When a woman runs her own business she sets the game rules and the only one holding her back is herself. Which is why it may be that women STARTING their own businesses may be less happy because in order to get their company going they have to submit to the startup process which is dominated largely by a male hierarchy. Thanks.