Sept. 22, 2005--While more women are turning to self-employment as consultants and entrepreneurs, a new study finds that those who take time off from a career encounter significant problems when reentering the workforce.

A recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business found that 50% of women who began looking for work after a two-year hiatus said they were "frustrated" and 18% described their job search as "depressing." Respondents typically blamed their difficulty finding work on the perception that young business school graduates are less expensive than experienced candidates returning to the workforce. Eighty-three percent of respondents were over 35 and 81% had an MBA.

Monica McGrath, a lecturer in Wharton's Management department, conducted the survey with Marla Driscoll, an independent consultant, and Mary Gross of Merrill Lynch Investment Managers. McGrath advises women to take on projects from time to time for employers that they would consider working for full time in the future.

Self-employment is another viable path. "One way that women become re-engaged in business is to re-enter the workforce as an entrepreneur," McGrath said in her report.

Women's share of all self-employed persons rose from 22.5% in 1979 to 31.5% in 2003, according to a study by Robert Fairlie of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Fairlie also found that in 2003, the number of self-employed women reached 3.8 million, more than double the 1979 level. This was 6.8% in 2003 of the total workforce. In 2003, male self-employment was 8.3 million, or 12.4% of the total workforce.

"Self-employment rates for women were rising pretty rapidly in 1970s and 1980s, but stalled in 1990s," said Fairlie, who composed samples from data gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. "But recently we've seen an upward trend, approaching historic highs."

The forces driving dynamics of the women's labor market have not received much attention from the government or academics. "Unfortunately, we don't have a good explanation for what's happening," added Fairlie. "There are a lot of unanswered questions about female employment and business ownership."

According to the Wharton report, personal barriers can stymie women attempting to reenter the workforce.

According to the Wharton report, personal barriers can stymie women attempting to reenter the workforce. They often have stopped talking to people in their professional network, and sometimes lack encouragement from family members.