Gender, Age, and Small Business Financial Outcomes

February 2019

February 2019


The small business sector, comprised of businesses with fewer than 500 employees, makes substantial contributions to overall US economic growth and dynamism. That dynamism is driven by the people who start businesses and grow them, including women who now comprise 36 percent of business owners, up from just 4.6 percent in 1972, and the business owners aged 35-54 who start and own the majority of firms. Understanding their experiences is critical to understanding the financial health of the small business sector.

This new research focuses on small business financial performance, with a specific emphasis on differences in outcomes by owner age and gender. We leveraged unique, high-frequency transaction data from a sample of 1.3 million small operating businesses to provide insights into small business financial health and performance, including survival, cash liquidity, revenues, and revenue growth.

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Our findings are four-fold:

Finding 1: Young and female small business owners are well-represented among firms that grow organically, but underrepresented among firms with external financing.

Finding 2: Firms with founders 55 and older are the most likely to survive but are the least likely to have employees.

Finding 3: Female-owned firms start with revenue levels 34 percent lower than male-owned firms and have slower revenue growth.

Finding 4: New female-owned businesses have 46 percent of the revenues of new male-owned businesses in San Antonio, but 85 percent of the revenues of male-owned businesses in Miami.

Small business survival alone does not necessarily ensure revenue growth, effective cash flow management, or other indicators of financial health. Young business owners start one third of new firms, and these firms grow quickly if they survive. New firms founded by older business owners are more likely to survive, but they may not be as dynamic: they grow more slowly and are the least likely to hire employees. Women start firms that have 34 percent lower revenues and grow more slowly than those started by men, but these firms are just as likely to survive.