Women’s businesses for rural economic growth and gender equality – data from a welfare state

Tillmar, Malin and Ahl, Helene and Sköld, Birgitta and Berglund, Karin and Pettersson, Katarina (2019) Women’s businesses for rural economic growth and gender equality – data from a welfare state. In: FALF Konferens 2019, Hållbar utveckling i organisationer : Book of abstracts. HELIX Competence Centre, SWE, pp. 59-60.

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Background In contemporary public and academic debate, there is an increased focus on the rural-urban divine, both on the global scale and in Sweden (Tidholm, 2018, Syssner, 2018). Rural areas in Sweden as in many other places in Europe face demographic challenges, including an ageing population (Westholm & Waldenström, 2008). Young people, and women more than men, move to the larger cities for education and employment, and do not return. This results in depopulation and a smaller tax base in rural areas, with resulting difficulties in maintaining social services, such as healthcare, or child care. In Sweden, the development has been accentuated by the closure of traditional manufacturing industries in small towns and in rural areas (Hedlund and Lundholm, 2015). The public sector is withdrawing services such as common transport, post services and schools in the local areas (Tidholm, 2018). In want of job opportunities in traditional manufacturing industries or agriculture, there is now significant hope for entrepreneurship to contribute to rural development (Stathopoulou, Psaltopoulos and Skuras, 2004), to transform depleted communities (Johnstone and Lionais, 2004) and to change the identity of outmoded industrial rural areas (Berglund, Gaddefors and Lindgren, 2016). Hopes have been placed in the “unused potential” of women’s rural entrepreneurship. However, extant academic knowledge does not suffice to judge whether these hopes are realistic. On the one hand, many of the new businesses in rural areas are female gendered. On the other hand, entrepreneurship is still largely perceived as a male phenomenon (Ahl, 2006), and gendered obstacles are often strong in rural areas. Knowledge on women’s entrepreneurship in rural areas are scattered in research fields which do not have much communication. Furthermore, from neither of the fields do we know very much about the extent, orientation, profitability or development potential for women’s entrepreneurship in rural areas. Hence, a first step on a research agenda of exploring women’s rural entrepreneurship is a quantitative overview, which is what this paper provides. Aim The overall aim of the study is to investigate the role of women’s entrepreneurship for rural economic growth in a developed welfare state. More specifically, we ask what role variables on the individual-, the industry and the local/municipal level play for women’s rural entrepreneurship. Method We use a census study to investigate the extent, orientation and profitability of women’s rural entrepreneurship in rural Sweden. Data on the national level is used for the purpose of an overview. In order to make a detailed analysis, and break down the results on industry- as well as municipal levels, we made a detailed study in one region. We selected the region of Småland (the Emilia-Romagna of Sweden) known for entrepreneurship (Berggren, Brulin & Gustafsson, 1998; Wigren, 2003; Johannisson & Wigren, 2006), but also for having a traditional and conservative gender order (Pettersson, 2002; Saarinen, 2002). We used the individual-based database LISA, made available by Statistics Sweden (SCB). We used the latest data available at the time for the study, which was data for 2012. The database consists of integrated registers from the labour market, civil registers and taxation registers (Statistics Sweden, 2016). The population of this current pilot-study included every Sweden-registered individual aged 16 up to 74 years, who was employed the year 2012. Results Our empirical results show that unlike what is portrayed within rural studies, women rural entrepreneurs are active in a broad range of industries. However, entrepreneurship in rural Sweden is heavily gendered. Industry variables impact income more than individual variables, and the profitable industries are the male gender coded one’s, where few women owned businesses are found. On this basis, we argue that due to the prevailing gender order, rural development is unlikely to be solved by women’s entrepreneurship. This has nothing to do with the ‘underperformance hypothesis’, as our results support the rejection of that hypothesis. What is needed for prosperous rural development in economic terms seem to be gender equality – which can be enabled by a welfare system in combination with larger employers.

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09 Jun 2021 18:45
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09 Jun 2021 18:45