From Brides to Business Owners: Microfinance and Women’s Entrepreneurship

  • Paromita Sanyal


Women’s entrepreneurship through microfinance programs has been celebrated as a model for reducing poverty and empowering women. Yet, evidence of the incidence of women’s entrepreneurship has been disappointing, leading to much critique and controversy. This article presents case narratives of women enrolled in microfinance programs in rural India who took the leap onto entrepreneurship and used microcredit loans to expand or start their small-scale livelihoods enterprises. These narratives illustrate the particular economic and social conditions that are found in cases where women have transitioned from being dependent, gender-compliant housewives to sole-earners or main breadwinners. Marital failure, functional absence or retreat of husband, economic distress, living in a nuclear household, and absence of an adult son are consistently evident in all cases of women’s entrepreneurship. This qualitative analysis helps us understand why women’s entrepreneurship is not more widespread despite the availability of microcredit loans.


Augsburg, B., De Haas, R., Harmgart, H. and Meghir, C. 2015. The Impacts of Microcredit: Evidence from Bosnia and Herzegovina, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 7(1): 183-203.

Angelucci, M., Karlan, D. and Zinman, J. 2015. Microcredit Impacts: Evidence from a Randomized Microcredit Program Placement Experiment by Compartamos Banco, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 7(1): 151-82.

Attanasio, O., Augsburg, B., De Haas, R., Fitzsimons, E. and Harmgart, H. 2015. The Impacts of Microfinance: Evidence from Joint-Liability Lending in Mongolia, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 7(1): 90-122.

Banerjee, A.V. 2013. Microcredit under the Microscope: What Have We Learned in the Past Two Decades, and What Do We Need to Know? Annual Review of Economics 5(1): 487-519.

Banerjee, A., Duflo, E., Glennerster, R. and Kinnan, C. 2015. The Miracle of Microfinance? Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 7(1): 22-53.

Banerjee, A. V., Karlan, D. and Zinman, J. 2015 b. Six Randomized Evaluations of Microcredit: Introduction and Further Steps, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 7(1): 1-21.

Barua, I. and Devi, A. 2004. Women Market of Manipur: An Anthropohistorical Perspective, Journal of Human Ecology 15(2): 129-133.

Becker, M.C., Knudsen, T., and Swedberg, R. 2011. The Entrepreneur: Classic Texts by Joseph A. Schumpeter. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Blattman, C., Green, E. P., Jamison, J., Lehmann, M. C., & Annan, J. 2016. The Returns to Microenterprise Support among the Ultrapoor: A Field Experiment in Postwar Uganda, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 8(2): 35-64.

Crépon, B., Devoto, F., Duflo, E. and Parienté, W. 2015. Estimating the Impact of Microcredit on Those Who Take It Up: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Morocco, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 7(1): 123-50.

Gobin, V. J., Santos, P., & Toth, R. 2017. No Longer Trapped? Promoting Entrepreneurship through Cash Transfers to Ultra-poor Women in Northern Kenya, American Journal of Agricultural Economics 99(5): 1362-1383.

Davidson, T., & Sanyal, P. 2017. Associational Participation and Network Expansion: Microcredit Self-Help Groups and Poor Women's Social Ties in Rural India, Social Forces 95(4): 1695-1724.

Kar, S. 2018. Financializing Poverty: Labor and Risk in Indian Microfinance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Karim, L. 2011. Microfinance and its Discontents: Women in Debt inBangladesh. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Miles, M. B. and Huberman, A. M. 1994. Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook. 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Newransky, C., Kayser, K., & Lombe, M. 2014. The Development of Selfefficacy Beliefs of Widowed and Abandoned Women through Microcredit Self-help Groups: The Case of Rural South India, Journal of Social Service Research 40(2): 201-214.

Palaniswamy, N., Parthasarathy, R., & Rao, V. 2019. Unheard Voices: The Challenge of Inducing Women’s Civic Speech, World Development 115: 64-77.

Prügl, E. 1999. The Global Construction of Gender: Home-based Work in the Political Economy of the 20th Century. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Ram, D., Singh, M.K., Chaudhary, K.P. and Jayarani, L. 2016. Entrepreneurship Behaviour of Women Entrepreneurs in Imphal of Manipur, Indian Research Journal of Extension Education 13(2): 31-35.

Reuf, M. 2010. The Entrepreneurial Group: Social Identities, Relations, and Collective Action. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Roy, A. 2010. Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sanyal, P. 2009. From Credit to Collective Action: The Role of Microfinance in Promoting Women's Social Capital and Normative Influence, American Sociological Review 74(4): 529-550.

Sanyal, P. 2014. Credit to Capabilities: A Sociological Study of Microcredit Groups in India. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Sanyal, P. 2015. Group-based Microcredit & Emergent Inequality in Social Capital: Why Socio-religious Composition Matters, Qualitative Sociology 38(2): 103-137.

Sanyal, P., Vijayendra R., and Umang P. 2019. How Women Talk in Indian Democracy, Qualitative Sociology 42(1): 49-70.

Sen, D., & Majumder, S. 2015. Narratives of Risk and Poor Rural Women’s (Dis)-engagements with Microcredit-based Development in Eastern India, Critique of Anthropology 35(2): 121-141.

Sen, A.K. 1999. Development as Freedom. New York, NY: Knopf. Tarozzi, A., Desai, J. and Johnson, K. 2015. The Impacts of Microcredit: Evidence from Ethiopia, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 7(1): 54-89.

Yunus, M. 2007. Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the Battle against World Poverty. New York, NY: Public Affairs.

Themed Articles