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Boomers Take More Risks, Start More Businesses Than Twentysomethings: Study

Want a killer startup? Get with a gray-hair. That's what a report says.

A new national survey released today found that the age group most likely to consider themselves entrepreneurial is Baby Boomers. The findings, in which 45 percent of respondents from 50 to 69, compared to just 32 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, labeled themselves as entrepreneurial, contradicted the researchers' original hypothesis.

And the research, conducted by and Millennial Branding, surprisingly had Boomers describe themselves as having the highest risk tolerance. When it came to risk-taking, 43 percent of the older workers said they were comfortable with high risk, compared to just 28 percent of gen-Yers.

This goes against the stereotype of the tech-savvy, startup-happy young graduate. But other studies corroborate the idea that older people aren't just entrepreneurs—they're good at it. Two big studies of hundreds of successful companies found the average age of founders at the time they got going was from 39 to 41. A separate analysis of Kauffman Foundation data in 2009 found that the average age of entrepreneurs is actually rising, with the largest growth in the 55–64 age range—and the smallest growth among 20- to 34-year-olds.

How can this be? Well, from an economic perspective, older people have more wealth and less debt than younger people, which certainly makes a better foundation for risk-taking. Also, average job tenure is dropping, so people in their forties and beyond are less likely to be comfortably ensconced in a "lifetime job" and more likely to be looking around for a new opportunity.

From a cognitive perspective, older people have more education and have had more chances to try and to fail in their careers and in life—experience that is always good to draw on if you want to start a successful new venture. And as Marc Freedman of Civic Ventures argues, people in the second half of life are more likely to be looking for a way to combine "passion, purpose, and a paycheck," looking for work that marries their values and interests, and allows them to leave a legacy. That is, they may be taking more risks because they have less to lose in pursuit of work that feeds their souls.

[Image: Flickr user Sean Dreilinger]

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  • Sharon

    Great to see the stereotypical portrayal of an entrepreneur debunked!  Why does this culture buy into the concept that a half-shaven young male in a black tee shirt developing the 19th flavor of Groupon is our only hope for growth?  And shame on the 50+ 'ers who seem to imply that becoming an entrepreneur is the consolation prize for being pushed out of the corporate workplace.  Are you kidding me?  I would never have started my company, Zelda's Song ( if I had the option of just showing up someplace.  Now I actually use my talent, education, vision, expertise, creativity, drive and incredibly deep corporate training to create success for myself.  

    Now, if I could only get people to stop telling me I need to be on Shark Tank.

  • JET

    Perhaps older people are being forced into an entrepreneurial experience when they cannot find jobs elsewhere.  By the time you are 50 and have been let go your chances of finding another job are super slim.  You may have a ton of experience but compared to the 30 something with an MBA and energy you are toast.  I do love the "then I'll show you" attitude of the 50+ age demographic, starting their own thing and that they are succeeding is terrific.  

  • Lu Sabal

    Yep, was the grant died last year and I was told better start looking. Decide to do a little writing, next thing I new I had 27page of a business plan, started scheduling networking and marketing meetings.  A lot of work?  Yes, but 2 new paying clients.  Am, I on target to make what I did last year...probably not but its a lot more fulfilling.

  • Flesh_sword

    It's as if they have more income and less risks than younger people or something...

  • Andy Brovey

    Three years ago, I gave up a tenured, university faculty position. Resigned, not retired. That decision was scary and drew concerned looks and comments from family, friends and coworkers. I started and now run my own business helping others learn to use the iPad - iPad Academy. Am I working long hours? Yes. Enjoying it more? Definitely! Oh, and last year I earned more working for myself than anyone has ever paid me.

  • Pinaki Saha

    Andy, would love to connect. I am in the same boat and believe we could benefit in a similar ecosystem. Mine is pinaki [at] ansharlabs [dot] com.

  • Charles Serra

    This finding surprised me at first but it makes sense. Who knows a boomer wanna be entrepreneur?