July 1, 2014 11:56 pm

Survey shows record numbers of UK entrepreneurs aged 50 or older

Entrepreur in office©Dreamstime

People aged 50 and over are starting businesses in the UK at record levels, and in greater numbers than 18 to 29-year-olds, challenging the perception of entrepreneurship as a young person’s game.

The surge in the number of older entrepreneurs, recorded in the latest edition of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (Gem), an international study of start-up activity, reflects a new trend in the UK’s changing economy.

From 2002 to 2008, 4 per cent of over 50s were engaged in entrepreneurial activity, lower than those in younger age brackets.

Since then, however, the rate for the over 50s has risen to 6.5 per cent, overtaking the level for the 18 to 29-year-old bracket, which peaked in 2012 before going into a decline.

The study was led by Mark Hart and Jonathan Levie, entrepreneurship professors at Aston Business School and the University of Strathclyde respectively.

Professor Hart said: “The shake-up from the recession has provided the impetus for people over 50 to say that it’s time to do something that they’ve always wanted to do and to take an opportunistic approach to creating their own business.

“These are not people who are past retirement, but individuals with years of productive activity in front of them, and their move into the ranks of entrepreneurs opens an interesting new aspect within the UK’s business culture, both socially and economically.”

Although most over 50s were launching ventures because they had spotted opportunities, some were forced to do so out necessity because of redundancy, Prof Hart added.

“That can point to an element of age discrimination, as people in this age group struggle to get into the job market and are forced into launching their own businesses to get back to work,” he said.

Alastair Clegg, chief executive of the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise (Prime), a national charity that supports business creation for the over 50s, said: “The over 50s have the skills, experience and dedication that naturally lend themselves to enterprise.

“Businesses started by older people help benefit the economy, provide jobs and work for other people and, more importantly, help keep older people in the workforce.”

The increase in entrepreneurship among the over 50s applied to both men and women, although male rates were significantly higher, according to the Gem study.

The annual Gem report measures and compares activity, attitudes and aspirations throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as France, Germany and the US. It also reports on wellbeing measures, business registration and funding sources.

The UK results recorded higher scores than France and Germany on almost all entrepreneurship indicators in 2013 and, while a dip in activity was recorded following a 2012 peak, levels still remained just above the longer-term UK trend.

In 2013, a fifth of working age individuals in the UK were either running their own business, were actively trying to start one, or intended to do so within the next three years.

That figure was down from the record high of a quarter in 2012, but remains above levels of start-up activity reported during the pre-recession period.

Professor Levie said: “One explanation is that, as we enter a period of recovery, traditionally the number of new business start-ups reduces, as people start to feel greater job security and have a wider choice as to whether they enter self-employment or employment.”

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