Older people as entrepreneurs

Judith Davey

If we look at synonyms for “entrepreneur” we get words like “tycoon”, “magnate”, “mogul” and “capitalist”. As I said in my last blog, my definition is simply a person who starts up a new enterprise in the private sector, usually, but not always, with the goal of making money. Entrepreneurship comes very close to self-employment. Following the definition in the literature, I am looking at people aged 50 plus.

What are the motives of older entrepreneurs?

Writing in a book published in 2009, Rogoff talks about those who “have to” and those who “want to”. The former are people who find that labour market conditions or discrimination prevent them from getting the job they want as employees. An example would be an immigrant who may have been well qualified in her own country, but who is obliged to take up a low level position.

The “want to” group are moved by wishing to use their skills and abilities in the way they see them; to make a contribution to society and to maximise their work satisfaction. Entrepreneurship is also a way of keeping up a professional presence, knowledge and contacts.

Let’s look at these motivations in more detail.

Following the dream

This may be something which has arisen from their previous career. Or it may be a totally different idea which has come into their minds. An example would be an amateur chef who hopes to open a restaurant.

Managing family and time commitments

If people cannot get the employment conditions, or employment locations, which suit their circumstances, then self-employment, where they are in control of these conditions, may be the answer.

Being your own boss

For many people this arises from dissatisfaction in their previous work. Autonomy brings enjoyment and satisfaction and sometimes the ability to accomplish a political or social purpose – setting up social services, education or health care for a special social or ethnic group.

Downsides of entrepreneurship

Rogoff mentions some less positive aspects of entrepreneurship in later life. One is lack of time to fully develop a new enterprise – less time to recover any losses or to re-build a career if an enterprise does not work out. Older entrepreneurs may find it more difficult to adopt long-term development plans, especially if they still have dependants or if they intend to build up an enterprise and sell it on for profit. There are some ways of getting around these draw-backs, such as partnering with others, purchasing existing businesses or franchises.

Entrepreneurship usually requires capital, but this does not necessarily mean financial capital. Older people have often accumulated rich stores of human, social and cultural capital. In any case, financial requirements may not be large for many service enterprises- gardening, home and pet care.

I have been thinking about how these motives fit with my own experience. I have been an entrepreneur/self- employed (but never a mogul or a tycoon!) at three stages in my life:

  1. When I was in India during my “gap year” (although the term had not been invented then), I started up classes for children coming up to secondary education age who were going back to the UK. Most of them had had their primary education overseas and so were not familiar with pounds, shillings and pence or imperial weights and measures. They needed coaching for the transition or to cope with exams such as the “11 Plus”.
  2. At the time when I had my first child there was little in the way of child-care. So, with another woman in the same situation, I started a contract research business – we were “consultants” in the days before everybody was! We shared the work and the child-care and organised both to suit ourselves.
  3. When I left my full-time job at Victoria University I reverted to taking up research and policy analysis contracts as and when it suited me, avoiding overloading my time and avoiding too much administrative responsibility.


Future opportunities for later life entrepreneurs

Rogoff is optimistic about the future for older entrepreneurs. Rapidly developing technology has made business ownership and operation more accessible. A lot of work can be done on-line from one’s own home. A long career in a large company is no longer seen as ideal, or as secure. Small enterprises are more flexible and contribute more to job creation. Watch this space!




Rogoff, Edward (2009) The Issues and Opportunities of Entrepreneurship after Age 50. Chapter 6 in Czaja, S. and Sharit, J (editors) Aging and Work. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit www.ageconcern.org.nz
This entry was posted in Paid and unpaid work (includes volunteering). Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Older people as entrepreneurs

  1. Travel Past & Present says:

    I am sure you are a great example as an entrepreneur, although I hesitate to specify your age!


  2. I am watching — both this blog and your next move as an older entrepreneur!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s