Entrepreneurship and Age

What makes a person decide to strike out on their own and start a business? The answer may depend on that person’s age. Several psychology studies have shed light on how entrepreneurial activity changes across the lifespan.

For many, a tendency toward entrepreneurship shows up by the time they’re teenagers. A study from researchers at University of London tracked 6,116 people from birth to the age of 34 and looked at how people’s early life experiences determined their likelihood of becoming entrepreneurs later.

It found that people who expressed the intention of becoming entrepreneurs at the age of 16 were in fact more likely to go on to start businesses, as were people with better social skills at that age. In other words, both the desire to become entrepreneurs and some of the skills involved were already apparent among adolescent entrepreneurs-to-be.

The families people came from also affected their likelihood of becoming entrepreneurs. For men, having self-employed fathers was associated with entrepreneurship. Among women, meanwhile, coming from families with higher socioeconomic status predicted entrepreneurship.

This study shows that many people who become entrepreneurs are already interested in entrepreneurship by the time they’re teenagers. Of course, not everyone who starts off wanting to be an entrepreneur still wants to be an entrepreneur if you ask them a few decades later.

Another study found that people become less likely to engage in entrepreneurial activity as they get older. The study also looked for possible reasons underlying this negative relationship between age and entrepreneurship.

It found that as people got older, they tended to believe they had fewer opportunities for entrepreneurship and fewer of the skills required to be successful entrepreneurs. Statistically, these beliefs explained the link between age and entrepreneurship – older people were less confident in they ability to be entrepreneurs and therefore didn’t become entrepreneurs.

Granted, there are exceptions. For some people, their entrepreneurial tendencies lie dormant until retirement. A 2013 study investigated what kinds of people decide to become self-employed after they retire. It found that people who were wealthier, more educated and confident in their abilities were more likely to become self-employed after retiring. Moreover, people who viewed their retirement as involuntary were also drawn to post-retirement self-employment.

These studies show how people’s entrepreneurial attitudes shift across the lifespan. Some show an entrepreneurial streak already in adolescence. Others don’t become entrepreneurs until they retire. In the end, there’s no wrong time to become an entrepreneur. In fact, if you have an entrepreneurial idea you can’t get out of your head, no matter what your age the best time is probably now.

Image: Flickr/Fer Martin