• 02.27.13

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.

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

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]

About the author

She’s the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her next book, The Test, about standardized testing, will be published by Public Affairs in 2015.