“Moms do whatever it takes to get things done. But we live in a constant state of guilt. Balancing it all—it’s tough,” says Pina Romolo, founder of Piccola Cucina and mother of two.
Pina isn’t alone. The pandemic exposed the impossible balancing act that society demands of working mothers—and how incompatible our ideals of the “good mother” and the “career woman” are. More than that, it’s shown us how unsustainable the nature of work has been for women with children.
The data is clear that the pandemic drove mothers out of the workforce, but what’s less clear is how they will continue professionally in this post-pandemic world. Based on Shopify research, we think mothers may be seeking a healthier work-life balance as mom entrepreneurs, also known as “mompreneurs.”
In a survey of 1,532 parents in the US, 62% of mothers said they were interested in supplementing their income, with more than half of moms reporting at least some interest in starting their own business. And the women who bared the brunt of the public-health emergency—mothers of color and single moms—reported the highest levels of interest in entrepreneurship.
Maybe the pandemic laid bare how broken the system was. Or maybe it started a shift in the way working moms participate in the labor force—away from rigid work arrangements and toward a more flexible model. Through research and interviews with women founders, we explore the current attitudes moms hold about entrepreneurship and the future of work.
Table of contents
- More than half of women with children are interested in entrepreneurship
- Moms are “leaning out” as they opt for part-time entrepreneurship
- Black and Latina moms want control over their livelihoods
- Flexibility is currency for moms
- The real (and perceived) challenges associated with starting a business
- Finding balance through entrepreneurship
More than half of women with children are interested in entrepreneurship
Of the mothers surveyed who are not already business owners, 44% said they're either slightly or moderately interested in starting a business and becoming entrepreneurs. One in six mothers indicated they’re very interested in starting a business.
📊What our research shows
- 16% of women with children are “very interested” in starting a business.
- 44% of women with children are “slightly/moderately interested” in starting a business.
- 40% of women with children are “not interested” in starting a business.
👀 Why it matters
While these results suggest most women with children are interested in starting their own business, there are still many moms who find entrepreneurship altogether unappealing.
When talking to several women founders and mothers, we quickly understood why: entrepreneurship has a bad rap. The word “entrepreneur” conjures images of 80-hour weeks and sleepless nights. And while this is certainly a reality for some, it’s also a choice.
“My perception of the business world was very negative. I thought it was all about making a buck no matter what and constantly hustling. Wolf of Wall Street stuff,” says Patrice Mousseau, founder of Satya Organic. “But it’s not really like that. We’ve all been fed this lie about business.”
But beyond perception, current circumstances also play a prominent role in women’s interest in entrepreneurship, in particular, current employment status and income. Employed moms in the highest income bracket—earning $85K or more—were significantly more likely to cite having "no interest” in starting their own business.
For the moms who have lost their jobs or voluntarily downshifted their careers because of increased domestic responsibilities, the pandemic was an opportunity to explore alternative ways to work. But for women who have fought to secure high-earning jobs and were lucky enough to keep them during the pandemic, upending their career (and life) to pursue a new venture may seem like an unnecessary risk.
Moms are “leaning out” as they opt for part-time entrepreneurship
Women with children are very interested in supplementing their income—but want to do so on a part-time basis. Men with children, on the other hand, were more likely to report wanting to supplement their income full-time (58%) compared to part-time (42%).
📊 What our research shows
- 62% of women with children are interested in supplementing their income.
- Of the women who are interested in supplementing their income, 70% of them only want to do so on a part-time basis.
👀 Why it matters
Decades of research show women do significantly more housework and childcare than men—so much so that working moms are often said to be working a double shift. And while more women have joined the paid labor force, men aren't joining the unpaid labor force at the same rate. "It's all work, but no pay," says Therese.
It's unsurprising, then, that most mothers are interested in running a business, but only as a side hustle or part-time gig.
“As mothers, we have so much responsibility on our shoulders. We have to meal-plan, make sure everything is clean, and maintain our own jobs or businesses,” says Pina. “We need more hours in the day.”
Too often, it's the American working mom's reflex to think she's failed if she can’t “do it all”—if she can’t be totally devoted to her family and her work. And though there are practical solutions that would improve moms' work-life conditions—such as more affordable daycare and flexible work policies—there’s also a psychological aspect that needs to be addressed. Through our interviews and research, we’ve found that women feel pressured to “do it all”, but many just want the work-life balance that part-time work offers.
For the women who want to (and can afford to) work part-time, business ownership is particularly appealing. It allows them to prioritize their own obligations—guilt-free. Becoming a mom entrepreneur is the only work arrangement that doesn’t need to be binary: all in or all out. In fact, for most independent business owners on Shopify’s platform, a part-time commitment is sufficient to run a successful operation.
“I think there’s this idea that if you’re not doing it all the way, you’re not doing it at all,” says Joana Fraser, founder of mom-owned business LittleMore Organics. She launched her business in April of 2020, at the start of the pandemic, and temporarily scaled back to only sell locally. “I can manage it part time,” she says. “I’m still seeing patients a few days a week and running my business every other day, so it hasn’t been a sudden transition. You can ease into it.”
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Black and Latina moms want control over their livelihoods
No one suffered more during the pandemic than women of color. The job losses from December 2020 are a stark illustration of these trends: Black, Latina, and Asian women accounted for all of women’s job losses that month, with 154,000 Black women dropping out of the labor force entirely.
Not only are women of color more likely to be working in lower-paying jobs with no benefits or paid leave, they’re also doing more at home, too. Latina mothers are 1.6 times more likely to be responsible for all childcare and housework, and Black mothers are twice as likely to be handling all of caregiving responsibilities for their families.
And yet, our study found that Black and Latina mothers were two times as likely to report wanting to start their own business compared to White and Asian mothers.*
📊 What our research shows
- 33% of Black women with children said they're “very interested” in starting a business.
- 29% of Latina women with children said they're “very interested” in starting a business.
- 13% of Asian women with children said they're “very interested” in starting a business.
- 13% of White women with children said they're “very interested” in starting a business.
👀 Why it matters
Unemployment was a disproportionate reality for women of color long before the pandemic intensified job losses. “We’ve lost faith in the system and in traditional employment a long time ago—all the pandemic did is remind us that we can’t put our future or our children’s well-being in anyone else’s hands,” says Therese Dozier, founder of LUVSPUN and mother of two. “The pandemic was a breaking point.”
And systemic inequalities don’t just affect the individual—they’re intergenerational. For Therese, providing her children with financial security was the main motivator for starting her business. “I started a business to provide some generational wealth for my children. Leaving something for them was my greatest inspiration,” she says.
For the women of color who experienced layoffs and who have less access to job opportunities, the overwhelming message is they have no control over their own livelihood. Working for themselves finally puts them in the driver’s seat. “I’m so grateful I can create opportunity out of nothing,” says Therese.
As more women-led households in communities of color pursue economic freedom, we have a chance as a society to close the generational wealth gap, strengthen communities, and create more job opportunities for everyone. At Shopify, we’re working to ensure women of color have access to the resources they need to make these dreams a reality.
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- The Future Needs More Black Businesses
Flexibility is currency for moms
Among women who weren’t current business owners, single mothers, and mothers with younger children were significantly more likely to show interest in starting their own business.
📊 What our research shows
- 22% of single women with children said they are “very interested” in starting a business, compared to 14% of married women with children.
- Women with younger children (5 years old or younger) are more likely to want to start their own business compared to women with older children.
👀 Why it matters
Patrice isn’t surprised by this at all. “As a single mom, you’re already doing everything on your own. You learn to not rely on anybody else. And you realize how much you’re capable of doing,” says Patrice, who launched her own business when her daughter was only eight months old.
Becoming a mom entrepreneur offers the flexibility to make and manage your own schedule. “I’m so grateful that I get to make my own hours. That if my kid gets sick at school, I can pick them up and take care of them, without getting penalized for it,” says Therese.
Although norms around flexibility are changing in the workplace, there’s often a stigma attached to taking advantage of flexible work arrangements—especially among mothers, who are more likely to suffer negative career consequences for doing so. Wage penalties, worse performance evaluations, or being “mommy tracked” into lower-level roles are common biases working moms face everyday. And that’s just for the privileged few women with full-time office jobs.
For the many women who work in less traditional roles, who don’t have the option to work from home and can’t afford child care, the question of continued child care obligations becomes especially unsustainable.
Simply put, a mom entrepreneur who makes money from home is able to earn an income while also taking care of her kids. And in today’s connected world, where technology affords flexibility in how and where we work, almost any business can be a home-based business.
The real (and perceived) challenges associated with starting a business
There are some very real barriers to entrepreneurship for moms—not having the time, energy, financial resources, or care infrastructure in place are chief among them. But there are also some perceived barriers that are weighing heavily on mothers’ minds.
📊 What our research shows
Top 3 challenges associated with starting a business:
- 55% of women with children cite “finding the money for initial expenses” as a challenge associated with starting a business, compared to 41% of men.
- 45% of women with children cite “not knowing where to start” as a challenge associated with starting a business, compared to 29% of men with children.
- 23% of women with children cite “overall business strategy” as a challenge associated with starting a business, compared to 24% of men.
👀 Why it matters
You’ve probably heard the following trend: men apply for a job when they meet only some of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet all of them. Turns out, this applies to starting a business as well.
Too often, women put pressure on themselves to have everything figured out before they get started. But the truth is, most entrepreneurs end up pivoting their business several times over the course of its lifespan. And while planning is good, necessary even, the future is impossible to predict. The only way to figure out what you want to do is to just try something—and be willing to adapt when necessary.
“We set up these barriers for ourselves because we think things aren’t going to work. I used to tell myself ‘I’m a journalist, not a business woman.’ But that doesn’t mean anything. We’re all just learning as we go. The business world is constantly being reinvented. There are no rules,” says Patrice.
For moms, getting started is taking a leap of faith—in themselves. And that thought itself can be disquieting for women who are used to putting everyone else’s needs before their own.
“Women have these restrictions that are unspoken. These voices in our head. Men can do whatever they want. They’ve been raised to feel that way. We haven’t,” says Therese. “And we’re already bringing in less money than our male counterparts from our corporate gigs. I get why it seems risky to give up whatever financial security we have to start a business full time.”
And while these financial concerns are valid—women make less money on average and have a harder time accessing capital than men do—there are some misconceptions around the costs of starting a business. There are many business models, such as print on demand and dropshipping, that require little to no upfront investment. And when it comes to funding, Shopify Capital is accessible to both male and female entrepreneurs.
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Finding balance through entrepreneurship
The crisis exposed how broken the nature of work has been, and the unfair burden it’s placed on mothers. But for many moms, the pandemic was also an opportunity to reset the terms of their careers.
For women who hold 9-to-5 jobs, starting a business represents a chance to reach for independence and escape the glass ceiling. And for the millions of moms who work hourly jobs, often without benefits like health insurance and paid sick leave, starting a business is a chance to gain control of their own lives.
Looking forward, our research suggests mothers will be quicker to choose quality of life when making career decisions—valuing the flexibility, control, and independence entrepreneurship offers. And while starting a business isn’t without its challenges, it offers a promising alternative for moms who are grappling with their return to an unjust workforce.
Perhaps the crisis was the impetus professional mothers needed to redefine the meaning of work; a chance to re-enter the labor force on their own terms—as mom entrepreneurs. Patrice agrees, adding,“I think more women are finally realizing that business can be a vehicle for change. It can be something you do to not only support yourself but to have positive change in the world and set a good example for your kids. It’s a new frontier for women.”
This data is based on survey data collected in February 2021 from 1,532 parents in the US. All values are rounded averages. All data is unaudited and subject to adjustment. All financial figures are in USD unless otherwise indicated. Due to the size of our sample, our data unfortunately only reflects the realities of cis gendered parents, but we know that non-binary parents were equally impacted by the pandemic. Also due to our sample size, we were not able to report on all ethnic and racial groups with statistical significance.Research by Ariel Chernin
Illustration by Isabella Fassler
Data visualization by Sage Youngblood
Mom entrepreneurs FAQ
What is a mom entrepreneur?
Why do moms make great entrepreneurs?
What do mompreneurs struggle with?
- Work-life balance
- Earning less than men
- Feeling like they need to have everything figured out before launching their business
- Lack of flexibility in their schedules