Guess what? People 55 and over have the highest rate of entrepreneurship in the US. Take that Mark Zuckerberg. Not only does this older demographic have the highest rate of entrepreneurship, but The Kauffman Foundation reports they are much more likely to form successful enterprises than entrepreneurs between 20 and 34. So, contrary to urban myth, the most vital tyro entrepreneurs these days are not the young, but the old. Furthermore, this phenomenon is on the upswing. (How can it not be on the upswing given the fact that 20% of the US population will be over 65 by 2050, in contrast to 14.5% at present, and projected life expectancy will surpass 100 in the near future for developed countries like ours. And we’re not talking here about dottering, demented, diminished individuals, but, rather, increasingly vibrant, functional worker bees, with vast life experience.) In fact, the future will increasingly depend on the efficacy of the aged. Note an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal last Tuesday by Nicholas Eberstadt and Michael Hodin titiled, “America Needs To Rethink Retirement.” (WSJ, 3/11/14, OpEd, p. A-15) They state,
“With declining birthrates throughout much of the world, humanity is getting older. In Europe, the median age has climbed to 43 over the past 30 years, from 34, while in Japan—with the oldest population on the planet—the average age is 46, up from 39 in 1994…. One vital question in particular goes largely unaddressed: How [does the western world] build an economic model for an aging society? As the over-60 population grows much faster than the younger working-age cohorts, while life expectancy increases, the 20th-century model of work and retirement becomes increasingly unsuitable for economic growth. The key will be finding new solutions to engage older American in the workforce.”
The rejuvenated “elderly” may offer a partial answer to Eberstadt and Hodin’s conundrum. They may have to, not only for the country’s economic health, but also for their own sakes. In a NY Times piece on March 13, 2014 titled The Gray Jobs Enigma, Helen Dennis, a professor at USC and an expert on retirement, says it is not surprising that an increasingly large percentage of Americans are planning on working into their late 70′s. She posits the main reason for this is simply increasing societal uncertainty and loss of faith in traditional political and cultural verities. (Given these facts, it is quite beyond my ken why we don’t immediately raise the retirement age to 70. When Social Security was implemented in 1935 average life expectancy was 61. Now it is 79! 60 really is the new 50, or even 40, for a plethora of reasons. Acknowledging these facts and legislating a later legal retirement would solve half our unfunded entitlement and deficit problems in one fell swoop.) In a NY Times article in 2011, Dr. Edward Glaeser of Harvard, a specialist in the graying workforce, notes that the elderly are often the most entrepreneurial of Americans. He points out, for example, that West Palm Beach, a retiree haven, has the highest self-employment rate of any metropolitan area in the country. (NY Times, 11/19/11) Our aging population is a huge and still largely untapped resource. Aging entrepreneurs have an increasingly healthy robustness and concomitant energy. They are not a phalanx of drooling, curmudgeonly old coots, but rather a potential font of rich and leavened innovative dynamism. The entrepreneur of a certain age is a resource. As the late Peter Allen put it in his 1979 song, “Everything old is new again.” Thank you, Peter.