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March 1994, Vol. 117, No. 3
Theresa J. Devine
A fter a long period of decline, the incidence of self-employment in the nonagricultural sector of the U.S. economy began to increase during the mid-1970's-both absolutely and relative to total employment.1 According to data from the Current Population Survey (CPS),2 the number of nonagricultural workers who were self-employed in their primary jobs increased by 74 percent between 1975 and 1990, while total nonagricultural employment increased by 33 percent. In turn, the nonagricultural self-employment rate (defined here as the nonagricultural self-employment as a percentage of total nonagricultural employment) increased from 7.4 to 9.7 percent. (See table 1.)
Among the more striking aspects of this recent rise in self-employment has been the increased representation of women among the self-employed. As of 1975, women represented about 1 out of 4 self-employed workers. By 1990, they accounted for about 1 in 3. (See table 2.) In part, this change in the gender composition of the self employed reflected differential changes in male-female employment rates-a 46-percent increase for women, versus a 24-percent increase for men. More important, however, was the relatively large proportionate increase in the female self-employment rate. The number of self-employed men increased by 54 percent and the male nonagricultural self-employment rate increased from 10 to 12.4 percent between 1975 and 1990. Over the same period, the number of self-employed women more than doubled and the female self-employment rate increased 63 percent-from 4.1 percent in 1975 to 6.7 in 1990. (See table 3.) Overall, the net change in women's self-employment represented one-eighth of the net increase in their employment in the nonagricultural sector between 1975 to 1990.
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1 This turnaround in the nonagricultural sector appears to have been identified by T. Scott Fain, "Self-employed Americans: their number has increased," Monthly Labor Review, November 1980, pp. 3-8. For more detail on the long-term trend through 1983, see Eugene H. Becker, "Self-employed workers: an update to 1983," Monthly Labor Review, July 1984, pp. 14-18.
2 The Current Population Survey is a survey of about 60,000 households conducted monthly by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect demographic, social, and economic information about the U.S. population of working age (16 years and over).
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