Challenger: Older Entrepreneurs Flourishing

November 24, 2003 ( - While many still picture entrepreneurs as the young bucks of industry, increasingly, these days, those starting their own companies have a few gray hairs and more than a few miles under their belts.

Unpublished government data cited by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas show that the number of Americans 55 and older categorized as self-employed has increased 18% to just over 3 million as of October 2003 from 2.55 million in 1994. These senior entrepreneurs now represent 28.5% of all self-employed workers, which is the highest percentage among all of the age categories tracked by the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

According to CEO John Challenger, the surge in senior start-ups is due to several factors, including the enduring perception that age discrimination in the workplace remains pervasive. There is also a growing desire among older workers for a high level of workplace flexibility that they feel can only be achieved by acting as their own boss.

“The latest government figures indicate that the tide is turning toward more experienced individuals, many of whom may have lost their jobs during the three-year wave of job cutting, which has yet to let up. Stock market gyrations that caused retirement funds to shrink in value may be a reason the most senior new entrepreneur firms were launched,” Challenger said in a statement. .

While self-employment was expanding among those 55 and up, it was falling for almost every other age group. The only other age group to see an increase in self-employment between 1994 and 2003 was 45- to 54-year-olds, which increased 18% to 2.89 million from 2.46 million. Another factor is that their own disabilities or those of a spouse have made it preferable to work from home, an option that many employers still do not offer.