This study explores the manner in which gender inequality in the transition into self-employment is associated with the institutional contexts of family and labour market structures in the East Asian countries of Japan, Korea and Taiwan. This work contributes to theoretical debates on gender inequality and entrepreneurship because prior research on female selfemployment has lacked a theoretical viewpoint on the mechanisms by which conditions for female entrepreneurship depend on the macro-structural arrangements of family and labour markets. By evaluating female employment in light of the patriarchal Confucian ideology, I examine gender disparities among individuals in terms of effects of paternal selfemployment, their experiences as family workers and their marital status on their transition into self-employment. The results of this study show that women in Japan and Taiwan do not benefit from the self-employed status of their fathers as much as their male counterparts. Additionally, female family workers in the three countries had considerable disadvantages in becoming self-employed, which implies that female family workers continue to be exploited by self-employed owners, namely, their husbands. In contrast, the effects of marital status, with both sexes, on their transitions into self-employment differed widely among the three countries, reflecting the various barriers to self-employment and the differing conditions for female employment in each country. Overall, this study demonstrates that gender inequality in the transition into self-employment is related to family structures unique to these East Asian countries. This study, however, did not compare the dynamics of self-employment between East Asian societies and other industrialised nations. Future studies should explore whether the findings of this study are applicable to other industrialised societies.