Self-employed women shown to be less affected by crisis

A new report shows that while the number of self-employed men in Spain decreased by 14% between May 2008 and December 2012, the number of self-employed women decreased by 5.7% during the same period. The study, conducted by the Spanish Self-Employed Federation, also shows that at the end of 2012 the total number of women registered as self-employed amounted to 1,043,240. This corresponds to 34.5% of all Spain’s self-employed workers. Large numbers of self-employed women work in commerce, hotels, restaurants and catering, and in healthcare.


In April 2013, the Spanish Self-Employed Federation (ATA) published a report on the Spanish labour market focusing on the effects of the economic crisis on self-employment from a gender perspective. It compared the proportions of men and women registered as self-employed.

Drop in numbers of self-employed

The study shows that the self-employed have been severely affected by the Spanish economic crisis. Between May 2008 and December 2012, 386,028 people ceased to be registered as self-employed; the number dropped from 3,409,008 to 3,022,980, a decrease of 11.3%.

There are, however, significant differences when the data are broken down by gender, as the table illustrates. The number of self-employed men decreased by 14%, while the number of self-employed women decreased by only 5.7%. Of the 386,028 self-employed lost since May 2008, 322,528 were men and just 63,500 were women. This means that 83.5% of those who have ceased to be self-employed since the onset of the crisis are men.

Self-employment by gender

May 2008

December 2012


Decrease in %
















Source: Report on self-employed women 2012, Spanish Self-Employed Federation (ATA).

Self-employed women in 2012

During 2012, of the 44,519 self-employed who left the Special Self-Employment Regime (RETA), 38,146 (85.7%) were men and 6,373 (14.3%) were women.

However, according to another report published by ATA, in December 2012 the proportion of women registered as self-employed was still relatively low in comparison to men. The figures then showed there were 1,043,240 women in self-employment, which translates to 34.5% of all those registered with the RETA.

The report also includes some data from Eurostat, which is slightly different to Spanish national data because the category of ‘family support self-employed’ is not included in European-level data. Eurostat show that women make up 32.6% of all Spain’s self-employed workers. This figure is slightly above the European average of 31.1%, and higher than the percentages recorded in other countries such as Italy (28.7%), Greece (29.9%), France (30.5%), Belgium (31.1%) and Germany (32.2%).

Characteristics of self-employed women in Spain

The survey shows that details of economic activity by gender vary considerably. The proportion of women who are self-employed is higher than for men in many sectors, including:

  • commerce (31.7% are self-employed women, 21.3% men);
  • the hotel, catering and restaurant sector (HORECA) (11.4% women, 9.2% men);
  • professional, scientific and technical activities (7.6% women, 6.5% men);
  • health (5.2% women, 2% men);
  • administrative activities (3.8% women, 3.3% men);
  • finance and insurance (2.6% women, 1.8% men);
  • artistic activities and entertainment (2% women, 1.8% men)
  • real estate (0.8% women, 0.6% men).

Men are much more likely to be self-employed in the construction sector where 15.4% of men are self-employed, compared with only 1.2% of women.

Other sectors with a larger proportion of men include:

  • agriculture (13.4% men, compared with 11.8% women);
  • transport (11.2% men, 1.5% women),
  • industry (6% men, 2.8% women),
  • information and communication (1.7% men, 1% women).

The figures also highlight the fact that 36.3% of foreign workers registered with the RETA are women – slightly above the 34.5% of all women registered as self-employed.


The entire Spanish labour market has been severely affected by the economic crisis. In 2012, the unemployment rate among men was 25.6% and 26.5% among women. Conversely, the employment rate among men of working age is 49.5% and 39.2% for women.

The self-employment figures for the period from May 2008 to December 2012 can be largely attributed to the loss of jobs in male-dominated industries such as construction and some manufacturing sectors.

Focusing exclusively on self-employment, those businesses and jobs which tend to attract women seem to be more resistant to the crisis than those which attract more men. In fact, the number of women choosing to become self-employed in Spain has increased over the past few years.

The yearly statistics of the Ministry of Employment show that in 2009, 184,861 women registered with the RETA, compared 221,942 in 2012. Their total numbers have decreased less than those of men.

Employment policy should take these facts into account and intensify support for and promotion of self-employment among women.

Jessica Durán, Ikei

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