The Key to Happiness? Entrepreneurship, Duh

Image: Puzzle Pieces on Wooden Table

A new report finds that women business owners are happier than male entrepreneurs — and they’re all happier than those with corporate jobs.

By Kimberly Weisul (Editor-at-Large, Inc. & Founder, One Thing New)

This story originally appeared on Inc.com.

What does a woman really want? That question has supposedly bedeviled men throughout the ages. A new study provides the answer: Her own business.

That’s one conclusion that could be drawn from the 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor U.S. Report, issued today by Babson College and Baruch College. The report contained a number of insights about women business owners.

Most striking: Established women business owners ranked their happiness more than twice as high as non-entrepreneurs and non-business owners. In the chart below, which is taken from the report, TEA stands for total entrepreneurship activity.

 

Chart from 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor U.S. Report

“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,” said Donna J. Kelley, an associate professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, in a release accompanying the report.

Across both sexes, younger entrepreneurs tended to be less happy than older ones, and less happy than people who had regular jobs. (Those who start a business out of necessity, rather than because they see great opportunity, are really miserable.) The study leaves little doubt that starting a business is extremely trying, and not often a happiness-inducing activity. It tends to be later in life, when asked if they’re generally satisfied with their accomplishments, that entrepreneurs tend to win out.

Overall, more money — not surprisingly — was linked to higher levels of well-being. But when the survey subjects were split into thirds by income, entrepreneurs in the middle third were just as happy as non-entrepreneurs in the highest third. “It is a compelling case for the well being of those who choose the entrepreneurship path,” reads the report.

It could be, however, that happier people are more likely to become entrepreneurs. The report points out that those with higher levels of well-being were more likely to see opportunities for a business and more likely to believe they’re capable of starting one.

Women-Owned Growth Companies

The report also found that one in 10 American women is starting or running a new business. It didn’t say how many of those were full-time gigs and how many might be classified as side hustles, but it’s a higher number than any of the other 24 developed economies included in the report.

The chances of a woman running or starting a business is highest between the ages of 35 and 44, at about 20 percent, says the report. That may seem counterintuitive, since family demands can be extremely high for those who have young children. But it may also signal that women see entrepreneurship as a way to gain the flexibility and control over their time that is too often missing in the corporate world.

Increasingly, growth is a priority: The share of women business owners who want to add at least five employees to their business in the nest five years increased to 36 percent in 2013, up from 31 percent in 2012.

I applaud that optimism and ambition, but I also feel compelled to add a caveat: There are only about 5.8 million firms in the country that currently employ even one other person in addition to the owner. If 7.7 million women did manage to employ five people within five years, it would be tremendous for U.S. job growth. But it’s also pretty unlikely.

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Kimberly Weisul

About the guest blogger: Kimberly Weisul is editor-at-large at Inc and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media start-up that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek. Follow her on Twitter at @weisul.