Released: 2023-12-04

A growing share of women are among the ranks of the self-employed. In 2022, women represented 37% of all Canadians who worked independently to operate a business or professional activities or who were unpaid family workers. This was up from 26% more than four decades earlier, in 1976. Nevertheless, employed women remain less likely than men to be self-employed; in 2022, 11% of employed women were their “own boss,” compared with 16% of employed men.

Based on data from the Labour Force Survey and the censuses of population, the new study, “Self-employment among women in Canada,” released today examines the growth of self-employment among women. The study looks at trends in the leading self-employment occupations, the likelihood of the self-employed having employees and owning an incorporated business, as well as self-employment among the racialized and Indigenous populations.

Top occupations among self-employed women in 2022 similar to the late 1980s

When it comes to the type of self-employed jobs women hold, little has changed in the last 30 years. In 2022, three of the five most common occupations held by self-employed women were identical to those in the late 1980s: retail and wholesale trade managers, early childhood educators and assistants, and hairstylists and barbers. In 2022, two occupations were more common than they were in the late 1980s: real-estate agents and salespersons along with light-duty cleaners.

These findings suggest that there is not only stability in the type of self-employed jobs held by women, but also a continued gender-specific labour market segregation. In 2022, self-employed women remained overrepresented in female-dominated occupations, such as childcare providers. In comparison, self-employed men were most often in historically male-dominated occupations, with home building and renovation managers being the most common. Self-employed men also worked as managers in agriculture and as transport truck drivers more often than women.

That said, there has been one notable shift in self-employment among women: the move away from unpaid family workers, where individuals work without pay on a farm or business owned or operated by a family member. In 1976, unpaid family workers accounted for 34% of self-employed women, dropping to around 10% in the late 1980s. In 2022, 1% of self-employed women were unpaid family workers, mirroring the historical lows seen by self-employed men. In 1976, 3% of self-employed men were unpaid family workers, and in 2022, this rate stood at less than 1%.

Self-employed women are more likely than self-employed men to not have paid employees

Women are more likely than men to work independently without any paid employees. In 2022, 80% of self-employed women had no employees, compared with 68% of self-employed men.

Self-employed women (34%) were also less likely than men (54%) to be incorporated. “Incorporated” people are entrepreneurs who own a separate entity, while “unincorporated” people are own account self-employed individuals.

However, the proportion of incorporated self-employed women has increased over time, especially among those without paid employees. The proportion of incorporated self-employed women without employees increased from 3% in 1976 to 19% in 2022.

Self-employment increases with age

Self-employment among women is trending older, intensifying the historical pattern of self-employment increasing with age. In 2022, 2% of women aged 15 to 24 years in the labour force were self-employed, down from 5% in 1976. Meanwhile, for women aged 55 years and older, the self-employment rate increased from 14% to 18% during this same period.

Overall, data from the 2021 Census of Population suggest little difference between the self-employment rates of racialized women (10%) and non-racialized, non-Indigenous women (12%). However, differences emerge across racialized groups. Korean women had the highest self-employment rate, with one in five (20%) being self-employed, while Filipino women (5%) and Black women (6%) had notably lower self-employment rates.

Self-employment rates also varied somewhat between Indigenous women (9%) and non-Indigenous women (12%). The self-employment rate among women stood at 7% for First Nations people living off reserve. The rate was 10% for Métis women. For Inuit women, the self-employment rate was 4%.

  Note to readers

This study used data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the censuses of population. Annual LFS data from 1976 to 2022 were used to look at historical trends. Census of Population data from 2001 and 2021 were used to examine patterns across various racialized groups.

LFS is a monthly household survey. Excluded from the survey’s coverage are persons living on reserves and other Indigenous settlements in the provinces, full-time members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the institutionalized population, and households in extremely remote areas with very low population density. These groups together represent an exclusion of approximately 2% of the population aged 15 years and older.

The Census of Population is conducted every five years and gathers demographic, social, economic and cultural information on the Canadian population.


Self-employed: Working owners of an incorporated business, farm or professional practice, or working owners of an unincorporated business, farm or professional practice. The latter group also includes self-employed workers who do not own a business (such as babysitters and newspaper carriers). Self-employed workers are further subdivided by those with or without paid employees. Also included among the self-employed are unpaid family workers. They are persons who work without pay on a farm or in a business or professional practice owned and operated by another family member living in the same dwelling.

The self-employed are classified based on the job in the reference week. If an individual worked at more than one job, classification is based on the job at which they worked the most hours.

Racialized group is derived directly from the concept of visible minority. A visible minority refers to whether a person is a visible minority or not, as defined by the Employment Equity Act. This Act defines visible minorities as “persons, other than Indigenous peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.” The visible minority population consists mainly of the following groups: South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Arab, Latin American, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean and Japanese.


The article entitled “Self-employment among women in Canada” is now available in Insights on Canadian Society (Catalogue number75-006-X).

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (