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The number of self-employed women in the UK has increased by 148% since 1984

  • 18% of females have considered starting their own business, according to new research
  • In 1984 there were 646,000 women in self-employment in the UK. Fast forward to 2020 and that number has increased by 148% to 1.6 million
  • South East Scotland and Edinburgh are the best locations in the UK for female entrepreneurs 
  • The health and social sector has the most self-employed females, with 74% of self employed people in the industry being female

A new in depth study from Tide, the UK’s leading business financial platform, looks into what female entrepreneurship looks like in 2021 across the UK.

You can view the research in full here:

According to the research, around 1 in 5 women (18%) have considered starting a business, which is lower than the number of men who said they have considered forming their own company (29%).

Of those who have thought about starting their own business, the most common reason why they haven’t is a lack of savings or financial concerns, with women usually likely to start a business while either working part-time or after a career break, unlike men who usually start a business while working full-time and on much firmer financial footing.

What would prevent you from starting your own business?
I don’t have enough savings/finances 35%
The risk is too high 24%
I already run my own business 20%
I don’t have the confidence 15%
Other 6%


The number of self-employed women has increased since 1984 (when the earliest data is available). In 1984 there were 646,000 women in self-employment in the UK. Fast forward to 2020 and that number has increased by 148% to 1.6 million! For context, the UK population grew by 18% between 1984 and 2019. 

Over the same period, the number of self-employed men increased by 47% from 2.05 million to 3.02 million, so while the gap is certainly closing, there are still just under twice as many self-employed men as women.

The UK’s top 10 hotspots for for female founders

Rank City region Self-employed (male) Self-employed (female) Percentage of self-employed who are female
1 Edinburgh and South East Scotland 55,000 35,000 39.0%
2 North of Tyne Combined Authority 35,000 19,000 34.7%
2 West of England Combined Authority 48,000 26,000 34.7%
4 Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority 37,000 19,000 34.2%
5 Aberdeen City Region 21,000 10,000 33.5%
6 Glasgow City Region 60,000 30,000 33.3%
7 Greater London Authority 578,000 286,000 33.1%
8 Sheffield City Region 51,000 24,000 32.5%
9 Liverpool City Region Combined Authority 61,000 27,000 30.9%
9 Cardiff Capital Region 56,000 25,000 30.9%


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Edinburgh and South East Scotland takes the crown for the most female founders in the UK with 35,000 female founders making up 39% of self-employed people who are female. Followed by the North of Tyne region which includes Newcastle upon Tyne and the West of England, which includes Bristol (both 34.7%).

Which industries are the best for female entrepreneurs? 

Looking at how self-employment amongst females breaks down between industries, there are some stark differences.

Rank Industry Self-employed (male) Self-employed (female) Percentage of self-employed who are female
1 Health and social work 90,000 256,000 74.0%
2 Households as employers 9,000 20,000 69.0%
3 Other service activities 109,000 219,000 66.8%
4 Education 119,000 163,000 57.8%
5 Accommodation and food services 90,000 79,000 46.7%
6 Admin and support services 210,000 172,000 45.0%
7 Arts, entertainment and recreation 146,000 110,000 43.0%
8 Real estate activities 43,000 32,000 42.7%
9 Public admin and defence 30,000 21,000 41.2%
10 Prof, scientific, technical activ. 393,000 228,000 36.7%

The health and social sector has the most self employed females, with 74% of self employed people in the industry being female. 

This was followed by industries such as ‘households as employers’, which encompasses roles such as cleaners, babysitters and secretaries (69%) and other service activities, such as hairdressers and beauticians (66.8%).

Lize Haskell, Chief Administrative Officer at Tide comments on the findings: 

“Our research reveals that the number of self-employed women has increased by 148% since 1984, with over 1.6 million women in self-employment in the UK today. It’s great to see how women have made huge strides in entrepreneurship in recent years, with more female-fronted businesses than ever before.

“Starting your own business and taking that first step into entrepreneurship can be daunting, but there is lots of support and initiatives out there to help empower you. At Tide we’re committed to supporting women in the UK in starting and running their own business and we have set ourselves the target of helping 50,000 women in starting their business by the end of 2022.”

You can view Tide’s State of Female Entrepreneurship in full here

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