Nov 01 2022 | Posted by WUN

Empowered in Business or Penalised in Marriage: Experiences of Single Female Entrepreneurs in China

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Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

The WUN research consortium Women’s Mobility: Negotiating Work and Family Spheres in Asia has published the paper “Empowered in Business or Penalised in Marriage: Experiences of Single Female Entrepreneurs in China” in Work, Employment and Society (Sage Journals).

Principal investigator Prof. Jing Song is an Associate Professor in the Gender Studies Programme at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China and an Associate Researcher (by courtesy) at Shenzhen Research Institute, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China. Her main research interests include gender, family, work, and property in the contexts of migration, urbanisation, and social changes. Her recent projects examine family changes, women’s entrepreneurship, and women’s political participation in China.

Project information

In the globalized economies and increasing migration flows, women’s roles continued to be poorly understood given the conventional images of left-behind women and trailing spouses. Policies remain divided in addressing women’s tied migration, circular migration, and return migration, and most studies have focused on the structural and ideological constraints women face in seeking greater mobility.

Limited attention has been paid to women’s workplace and family roles that change simultaneously along with women’s increasing mobility. This project examines women’s mobility as a combined consequence of micro-level individual and family strategies and macro-level socioeconomic changes. By connecting women’s changing roles and capacities in both work and family spheres, this project illustrates how women are empowered or disadvantaged in different forms of spatial and social mobility.


In China, entrepreneurship remains a non-traditional career for women, but little is known about how young single women may opt for entrepreneurship against the social penalty. This study focuses on single female entrepreneurs and finds them being stigmatised as doing inappropriate jobs and (consequently) staying single. The interviewees responded differently, by (1) coordinating their career and family formation plans to make them compatible, (2) justifying their being single based on their entrepreneurial achievements, and (3) compensating for their deviance and using their economic capability to fulfill other family roles.

In contrast to the ‘androcentric’ business model based on carefree agents, female entrepreneurs illustrate different forms of agency to accommodate career aspirations and family duties. Given China’s market-oriented reforms, persisting gender beliefs and socialist legacy, this study illustrates women’s fluid and interactive agency in response to the gendered penalty in non-traditional careers.

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