A trap and a safety net: the role of the Housewife in female entrepreneurship

Possitive externalities of female entrepreneurship
26th April 2017
Culture and Entrepreneurship: different concepts yet inseparable and interdependent
20th October 2017

A trap and a safety net: the role of the Housewife in female entrepreneurship

"...the civilized women of the present century, with a few exceptions, are only anxious to inspire love, when they ought to cherish a nobler ambition, and by their abilities and virtues exact respect."

Marry Wollstonecraft

Female entrepreneurs who were housewives before engaging into entrepreneurship are both more likely to give up their entrepreneurial activity, and less likely to re-engage in entrepreneurship activity later. This can be due to their awareness of their social role as housewives, to which they can roll back to (safety net effect). At the same time, after their business fails, the social stigma imposed on these female entrepreneurs can be stronger than their male counterparts, acting in the future as an emotional barrier to their re-engagement with entrepreneurship (housewife-pitfall effect).
"Most stated that they had always wanted to play a more active role in the wider society but had never been encouraged to do so by their families."

Amama Shabbir & Silvana Di Gregorio

The re-engagement with entrepreneurship after a business failure can also be hindered by the husband/partner, who have enjoyed the housewife-household lifestyle in the past. They can be biased against such change and perceive the failure as an opportunity to discourage the wife/partner from further entrepreneurial engagement and support instead of her housewife functionality. Particularly if the household income is high enough to maintain their previous lifestyle.
"Women are more likely to select into self-employment in the presence of a partner with a secure income"

George Saridakis, Susan Marlow, and David J. Storey

However, if the household income and the family’s standards of living are significantly affected by the business failure of the wife/partner, then she can be supported by her husband/partner to re-enter employment instead of assuming yet again the role of the housewife.

Still, certain social biases (e.g. the female is the less strong member of society) and gender inequalities can influence the new set of choices (i.e. self-employment, salaried employment) and it can lead to the wife/partner to be encouraged by the husband/partner to seek salaried employment instead of a new entrepreneurial activity⁠.
"However, the sex category is difficult to hide and/or change, and since women who disrupt gender norms by acting in masculine ways seldom achieve their aims, lose approval and risk a demoted status."

María-Cristina Díaz García & Friederike Welter

On the other hand, a female entrepreneur who had not been a housewife in the first place would be unaffected by the housewife-pitfall; this is because her husband/partner would likely be indifferent to her being a housewife or any employment alternatives (excluding any other type of influences).

However, there is no equivalent role of housewife for males (e.g. "househusband"). Since such role is non-existent, there is no “safety net effect”; thus men are expected to try for longer and harder to overcome difficult situations related to employment. Particularly, when a husband/partner is engaged in entrepreneurial activity, he might be forced by the same social biases that conserve gender inequalities (e.g. the male is the stronger member of society), to keep generating ideas to overcome adverse situations and prove his worthiness in order to fulfil his role as a male and “a good husband”, who provides “a good life” for his family. It is therefore socially acceptable for males to fail and then to retry without being stigmatised as much as a female⁠.
“The mean survival rates of male-owned businesses in these two cohorts [namely 1980–1982 and 1985–1987] are 4- to 6% higher, respectively, that those of businesses owned by women”.

Richard J. Boden & Alfred R. Nucci

That said, a husband/partner who is engaged in entrepreneurial activity and whose business is failing and is unable to generate enough income to sustain his family’s lifestyle can be forced to accumulate higher debt levels to keep up with his social role of the “good husband”, who provides “a good life” for his family. The literature reveals that the number of divorces is higher in couples that the husband lost his job than when the wife loses hers (Guven, Senik, & Stichnoth, 2012; Parker, 2014).

As the folk wisdom suggests “you lose your job, you lose your wife.”


Boden, R. J., & Nucci, A. R. (2000). On the survival prospects of men’s and women’s new business ventures. Journal of Business Venturing, 15(4), 347–362.

García, M.-C. D., & Welter, F. (2013). Gender identities and practices: interpreting women entrepreneurs’ narratives. International Small Business Journal, 31, 384–404.

Guven, C., Senik, C., & Stichnoth, H. (2012). You can’t be happier than your wife. Happiness gaps and divorce. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 82(1), 110–130.

Parker, S. C. (2014). Entrepreneurship among married couples in the United States: a simultaneous probit approach (No. 1712). IZA Discussion Papers.

Shabbir, A., & Di Gregorio, S. (1996). An examination of the relationship between women’s personal goals and structural factors influencing their decision to start a business: The case of Pakistan. Journal of Business Venturing, 11(6), 507–529.

Shepherd, D. A., & Patzelt, H. (2017). Trailblazing in Entrepreneurship: Creating New Paths for Understanding the Field.

Wollstonecraft, M. (1978). Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Vol. 29). Broadview Press.

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