Entrepreneurship in the Third Third of Life – More Than You Might Imagine

By Mark D. Roberts

July 25, 2020

De Pree Journal

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is arguably the world’s leading research organization when it comes to entrepreneurship. Their methods and data are trustworthy and their conclusions thoughtful. So I always keep watch for their reports.

The latest one just made it to my inbox with the enticing title: “Who is the entrepreneur?” One of their notable conclusions is that in 2019, 1 out of 4 new entrepreneurs was an immigrant to the United States. Kauffman also documents the growth of non-white new entrepreneurs in our country, from 22.9% in 1996 to 46.9% in 2019.

I find this news both fascinating and encouraging. But there is another crucial category of new entrepreneurs Kauffman highlights: folks we would refer to as being in the third third of life. In 2019, new entrepreneurs fell into the following age categories:

20-34 – 27.2%
35-44 – 22.9%
45-54 – 24.8%
55-64 – 25.1%

Kauffman concludes: “New entrepreneurs were largely young in 1996, and were more likely to represent all ages by 2019.”

This might be surprising, given the tendency for many of us to picture entrepreneurs as young techies dressed in jeans and t-shirts. Kauffman suggests that there are just as many entrepreneurial third thirders as there are entrepreneurial millennials.

In fact, if you think about their data carefully, you’ll see that there are actually many more third third entrepreneurs than those in other age groups. Take the percentages, for example. The comparison between folks 20-34 and folks 55-64 seems pretty close, with the younger entrepreneurs slightly ahead. But notice the age ranges. There are fifteen years of people in the 20-34 range, but only ten years in the 55-64 range. This suggests that, when balanced out, it is more likely that a new entrepreneur be a third thirder than a millennial, by just a bit.

Additionally, Kauffman stops counting at age 64. There are surely a quite a few new entrepreneurs over 65 who would add to the third third number. I’m not making this up, by the way. A recent article in MIT Technology Review has this intriguing headline, “Meet the next generation of entrepreneurs. They’re all over 65.” Plus, according to an article in Entrepreneur, “the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that those 65 and over are the most likely in America to be self-employed, with nearly 16 percent fitting that description.” So, if Kauffman had decided to count new entrepreneurs older than 64, the number would have been considerably higher. This means that more third thirders are starting new businesses than folks in any other age bracket.

I’m not making this point in order to win some entrepreneurial contest, however. Rather, I’m emphasizing entrepreneurship among third third folk because we tend to ignore it or even to disbelieve in its existence. This means, among other things, that people in or entering the third third of life might never take seriously the fact that their next working experience could be entrepreneurial. They might not even consider the possibility that God is calling them into an entrepreneurial adventure rather like, say, God’s call to Abraham and Sarah when they were 75 and 65 years old, respectively.

You can check out Kauffman’s “Who is the entrepreneur?” report here.


Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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