Anecdotal evidence suggests that working from home makes it easier to balance work and family life. Women may be particularly likely to work from home since they are often viewed as the primary caregivers in the family in most developing countries. However, there is some concern in the literature that family responsibility may limit women’s ability to run a business, leading to fewer hours of operation and lower efficiency for home-based businesses run by women.
In my recent work, I use data on informal or unregistered firms in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar and Mauritius (Enterprise Surveys) to take a look at some of these claims. I find strong evidence of a greater proclivity among female compared with male entrepreneurs to work from home than outside—no surprise there. However, differences between firms located inside vs. outside household premises in the number of hours a business normally operates and in labor productivity are neither economically large nor statistically significant. Further, the differences that do exist are roughly the same for male and female-owned businesses. In short, working from home does not appear to be disadvantageous to businesses, and it is no better or worse for women than for men.
Of course, whether these findings are specific to our data or hold more generally remains to be seen. Also, it will be interesting to see how home-based businesses—and especially those owned by women—do in terms of, for example, access to finance, crime and infrastructure availability.