The Real Reasons There Aren’t Many High-Earning Female Business Owners

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A new study released this week shows that more women-owned businesses are generating upwards of $1 million in yearly revenue. But while this seems like something to cheer, it obscures the real truth behind women’s progress as firm owners.

First of all, the basics. The study, published by American Express OPEN, shows that more women business owners are raking in the seven-digit revenues, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The bad news? These high-earners account for just 1.8% of all female business owners.

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Even worse, that percentage is identical to what it was in 1997.

The takeaway: There may be more women business owners in general, but they struggle to build a footprint just as much as they did 14 years ago.

What’s the real reason this is happening? Yes, business is still an old boys club. And yes, entrepreneurship is still the final frontier for many women. But there are also specific trends — among women and men — that keep women out of the high-revenue club.

Here are a few studies that explain.

Women are amazing small business owners — but they’re also more likely than men to put family first.

Yes, it’s a stereotype — but it’s one that’s rooted in truth: Women are more willing to put work on the backburner for family. In fact, a 2010 study of female small business owners found that family ranked above customers in terms of basic life priorities. While that might strike most as the saner way to prioritize your life, it holds some people back.

Women are less likely to get loans.

Credit: It’s an issue that effects women at the start of their businesses — but it has far-reaching ramifications down the road.

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And why does this matter for women business owners? A survey published by the National Association of Women Business Owners showed that while 52% of male entrepreneurs relied on bank loans, just 39% of their female counterparts did the same. That means that women were more likely to rely on other forms of credit — like credit cards. And anyone who’s ever battled a hefty Amex bill knows why that’s problematic. Bank loans are stable — giant credit card balances are a problem.

Women are more cautious in business.

Face it, you have to be a little bit fanatical to get a business off the ground. And you have to take risks to make it succeed. (College drop-out billionaires? You know how insane bailing on Harvard looks when you’re in the moment, right?)

But study after study shows that women are risk averse — especially when it comes to matters of money. This tendency explains why many female entrepreneurs are less likely to raise their own debt ceilings and why they’re less inclined to approach a big-risk, big-reward proposition on the job.

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And as the Wall Street Journal noted today, many women take on additional business partners as their firms approach the $1 million revenue mark, negating their “sole ownership” status. It a phenomenon that manipulates the data but also rings true. Women are more measured — and therefore less likely to cash in big.

Amy Tennery is the Managing Editor of The Jane Dough. Prior to that, Tennery edited business news site Mogulite and was a reporter for The Real Deal, a New York City real estate trade publication. Tennery’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Slate and other publications.