The myth of the tech-savvy, university graduate entrepreneur is continuing to be undermined by a global trend which is seeing an increasing number of older people starting businesses.
The United States has reported that the highest rate of business start-up is among people aged 55-64. In Japan, people aged 60-plus now comprise over one third of new entrepreneurs, while in the UK ‘third age’ entrepreneurs (people aged 65 and over) are responsible for over a quarter of new start-ups.
It’s a similar story across the ditch too. Research undertaken by Swinburne University of Technology and Queensland University of Technology found that there is more entrepreneurship activity for 55–64-year-olds than any other innovation-driven economies, with up to 590,000 small businesses owned by someone aged 50-plus. In fact, almost 20% of all small businesses in Australia are owned by someone over 60, more than double the number owned by people under 30.
There is growing evidence, too, to suggest that businesses started by “senior entrepreneurs” may be more successful than those run by their younger counterparts. A recent report by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor highlights just why this might be:
“The world is beginning to understand how senior entrepreneurs with their wealth of work and life experience, deep networks, and eagerness to remain productive are a huge untapped resource. It is time that we stop thinking about this demographic as a liability and instead recognize them as assets, and work across sectors to help break down barriers to unleash their potential.”Thomas Schøtt, lead author of the report.
While New Zealand hasn’t conducted studies on the same scale, there is no doubt that the trend is also happening here too. Dr Judith Davey, Senior Associate, Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University, conducted 20 in-depth interviews with Kiwis who had started new businesses after the age of 50 to find out what drove them to do so. While the idea that older people are often ‘pushed’ into becoming entrepreneurs due to forced retirement or being made redundant has some merit (particularly in the wake of COVID-19), this doesn’t account for the multitude of reasons that motivated older entrepreneurs such as: taking the opportunity to make a career change or use their skills in a different field, and wanting to make a difference in their community.
The economic and social benefits of ‘senior entrepreneurship’ are obvious, as Dr Judith Davey suggests:
“Increasing economic opportunities for older people will also contribute to economic and business growth, and better investment in human capital and institutional knowledge in mixed-age workforces. It can also help offset the costs of an ageing population through increasing tax revenue and reducing older people’s need for support services.”
“Meaningful and appropriate work is beneficial to personal well-being. For individuals, it provides a sense of self-worth, accomplishment and social inclusion.”Dr Judith Davey
So, while ageism is undoubtedly a huge barrier for many people when it comes to being employed, age doesn’t seem to be a barrier to entrepreneurial success. If you’re thinking of starting a business, perhaps now’s the time!