Over-60 Entrepreneurship Is Redefining Work

By Dickson, Doug | Aging Today, March/April 2012 | Go to article overview

Over-60 Entrepreneurship Is Redefining Work


Dickson, Doug, Aging Today


Mo Lanier dresses for work each day in gym clothes because one year ago she opened Greatest Age Fitness, a personal training studio for people older than 50. Her business, which has grown steadily, boasts a tagline that celebrates her clients' maturity: "We're not 25 anymoreain't it great!"

What convinced her, at age 59, to strike out on her own? "I wanted to implement my training model at the gym [where] I used to work, but my innovative methods for people over 50 just weren't a good fit there," she says. "I finally decided that the only way to pursue my vision was to take a leap and open my own place."

Elders Are Entrepreneurial

Is Lanier one of the exceptional few who embark on a new venture later in life? Not according to the Missouri-based Kauffman Foundation, which compiles an annual Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. Their numbers show that over the past decade, people between 55 and 64 have started new businesses at a higher rate than any other age group, including 20-year-olds, whom we often associate with entrepreneurship.

A study by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College puts the number of small business owners older than 60 at 12 percent. Adding self-employed independents (one-person businesses) to that number raises the percentage to 38far beyond that of other age groups. And those numbers are trending up.

The reason has partly to do with demographics-there are simply more people older than 60. But other changes also drive this trend: loss of pensions, stagnation in earnings and the Great Recession mean many people will need to work well into their retirement years. And advances in technology have made it easier to start and run many businesses.

We know longevity is prompting many to think about how they will remain engaged as they age. For a majority the answer is some form of work, not just to cover living expenses or add to savings, but also to create value and make a difference. Civic Ventures, co-creators of the Purpose Prize (which recognizes people older than 60 who start social enterprises), recently conducted a survey of 45- to 70-year-olds in which 25 percent indicated an interest in entrepreneurship. Half of those said they want to start a nonprofit to address a social issue. Civic Ventures labels this group "encore entrepreneurs."

Catalino Tapia, a longtime gardener in San Francisco, is an encore entrepreneur and Purpose Prize winner. After seeing his son graduate from college and law school, he concluded that all students should have that opportunity. …

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