Purpose Few studies address the gender of small business owners (SBO) and those that do report inconsistent results. These inconsistencies are related to a controversy regarding gender differences in management: Are men and women managers similar or different and why? Four theories address this question: evolutionary, psychoanalytic, social role, and social construction. The purpose of the paper is to test the contradictory predictions derived from these four theories in the case of men and women SBO in Israel. Design/methodology/approach A sample of 101 Israeli SBO responded to a specially designed questionnaire. Findings All four theories received some support. The findings that men SBO described themselves as more motivated by status and were more concerned with competition support evolutionary theory. The findings that the most SBO were first born and had fathers who were business owners support psychoanalytic theory. The findings that more women SBO did not serve in the army whereas more men were commanders support social role theory. However, the most overwhelming support was for social construction theory. In every aspect studied, gender similarities were far greater than the differences: in demographic characteristics, characteristics of work and of business, and motivation for starting it. Research limitations/implications Future studies will need to replicate these findings with larger samples, other types of businesses, and different cultures. Practical implications For the training and support of women and men SBO. Originality/value The paper is theory‐driven focuses on a widely debated topic (gender differences in management) in the context of a particular group (SBO) and a particular culture (Israel).