Research Article: The diversity of interest in later-life entrepreneurship: Results from a nationally representative survey of Americans aged 50 to 70

Date Published: June 5, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Cal J. Halvorsen, Yu-Chih Chen, Sisi Zhang.


While older entrepreneurs are more likely to be male, white, and have higher levels of human, social, and financial capital, we know less about interest in later-life entrepreneurship. This study estimates entrepreneurial interest in a nationally representative sample of Americans aged 50 to 70 using partial proportional odds modeling. We estimate that more than 31 million older Americans have some interest in entrepreneurship and reveal key predictors of this interest (e.g., younger age). Importantly, the findings indicate that a more diverse group of older adults are interested in entrepreneurship than have become entrepreneurs, suggesting the need for additional research on the potential disparities between entrepreneurial interest and action in later life.

Partial Text

While the scholarship on entrepreneurship in later life is growing, little research has been conducted on interest in entrepreneurship among older adults, an important precursor to entrepreneurial intentions and activity that may be less constrained by real or perceived barriers and opportunities than by intentions or activity themselves. To date, academic scholarship on interest in entrepreneurship in later life is scant, with the exception of a one-page research brief on the subject (see [1]).

This study is the first to look at interest in entrepreneurship among older Americans using a multivariable framework. It finds that while there are differences in interest in starting a new business or nonprofit organizations in the next five to 10 years by key demographic variables, human and social capital, and personal preferences and values, there are also key areas where no difference in interest was established. These nonsignificant findings—urbanicity, those not currently in the labor force, educational factors and health, marital status, financial capital such as income and assets, and several personal preferences and values—point to the diversity and universal nature of interest in starting a new organization in later life. For example, while being married and having higher levels of income and assets are associated with later-life entrepreneurial activity [12], these factors were not found to be predictive of interest in entrepreneurship. This suggests that having a safety net—perhaps through higher or combined incomes, higher or shared assets, and spousal supports such as emotional encouragement, shared knowledge, and someone to help with family and household responsibilities—may buffer the relationship between interest and action. While these are individual- and family-level factors, similar arguments have been made for state- and national-level social insurance programs that reduce the consequences of entrepreneurial failure to increase entrepreneurship rates [73].