A new report from the U.S. Bureau of the Census makes official that more and more American businesses are owned by women. Based on 1982 federal tax returns, the bureau figures that 2.9 million, or 24%, of the nation's partnerships, sole proprietorships, and S corporations are owned by women. Even allowing for a change in the Census Bureau's methodology from the last such report back in 1977, that's an increase of more than 50%.

These are, by and large, still very small businesses (see Figure 1), both in terms of revenues and employees. Experts say this is a reflection of the relative newness of so many women-owned enterprises as well as the realities of the service industries around which they cluster (see Figure 2). The most typical woman-owned business is still the sole proprietorship with no employees and sales of less than $13,000. But even among the larger enterprises, the gender gap is widening: over the past five years, growth in the average women-owned partnerships and S corporations has lagged (see Figure 3). Overall, the average business owned by a woman takes in $34,076, or less than half the average sales of the businesses owned by men.

One encouraging figure: there were 668 businesses owned by women with more than 100 employees in 1982. Five years earlier, it was only 437.