This article is part of Amway’s ‘Driving Entrepreneurship in Europe’ Knowledge Network
Entrepreneurship is the blood of any successful economy, and in Europe it is the growth of entrepreneurs age 50 or more that could help define Europe’s economic landscape. Since the economic crisis in 2008 there has been a tremendous spike in long term unemployment, and those who are age 50 or more have been hardest hit. The 50 plus platform shows the scope of the issue on its website:

In Ireland, the 50+ unemployment rates more than tripled in the post crisis 2008 – 2012 period (from 3.6% to 11.1%); in Portugal it almost doubled (6.6% to 12.8%), in Greece it more than quadrupled (from 3.8% to 15.8%), and in Spain almost one in five people over 50 are currently unemployed.

This leaves Europe with a great challenge, employing its older citizens. However, as the 50 plus platform shows, Europe’s older workers are more than up to the task. Amway is one of the leading supporters of the 50 plus platform. Imelda Vital, who heads Amway’s EU office, told New Europe that while Europe struggles to deal with the problem of youth unemployment, “we mustn’t forget about the 50+ age group who still have much to offer both to the economy, and to their own livelihood. These people are always the hardest people to reinvigorate and get back into the workforce if they lose their jobs, and this is why we are acting on this issue actively.”

Entrepreneurship in 50 plus demographic

When we think about starting a new business we think about Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. Young, enterprising individuals who carve out a multi-billion dollar company while working out of a basement. However, statistically speaking a start up company by an older more experienced businessperson has a much higher chance of succeeding past the first 5 years. In fact, according to one study in the UK a start up by an individual 50 or older has a 70% chance of surviving the first five years as opposed to 28% by those who were younger than 50.

This is a resource that is largely unexploited at this point, as entrepreneurial activity has been highest in the older population of the United States and relatively reduced here in Europe.

However, this is beginning to turn in recent years and now nearly a quarter of all businesses are being started by those in the 50 plus demographic. This can likely be attributed to the economic crisis, but also the 2012 EU Year for Aging also likely played a role in promoting recognition of the skills and talents older workers throughout Europe.

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Technology skills and health

Another general knock on the older workforce is that they tend to be less educated in technology fields which are now dominant in today’s workforce and that they are older and will thus be sicker and lacking in energy. In reality, 90% of older workers are capable internet users and in a study done there was no indication in a difference in job performance due to technology or any other factor.

In addition, further research shows that it is in fact younger employees who are more likely to take a sick day than their older counterparts. So while youth may bring with it more energy, this does not seem to be causing a difference in productivity.

The innovation question

Entrepreneurship is the act of innovation. Developing a product, marketing it, and ultimately selling it requires a level of innovation and can do attitude that too often is seen as being solely the province of the young. Yet in a Harvard Business School study they showed that a company with diversity in ages amongst workers and managers was in fact more innovative than a completely youthful company.

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and as the 50 plus demographic in Europe faces longtime unemployment we should realize that they will find a way to re-invent themselves as entrepreneurs so long as the right policies can be implemented.

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EU and National Policy

There have been strong efforts by the EU and member states starting in 2000 to work with NGOs and other stakeholders in order to help provide retraining to European adults, particularly those in the 50 plus demographic, as well as those in marginalized groups.

In 2011, the EU proposed 84 billion to the ESF-Age network created by the European Commission. The goal of this network was to dispense funding for startups by older entrepreneurs as well as help them coordinate and improve their projects.

However, since 2011 unemployment for 50 plus workers has actually been increasing particularly in the struggling economies of Greece, Portugal, and Spain. In EU member states such as Belgium and France there has been a holding pattern for unemployment to go along with rising rates in Southern Europe. This indicates that while attempts to boost entrepreneurship, unemployment has not been impacted in a positive way as of yet. Further dedication from the European Commission and Parliament will be required, making the 50 plus entrepreneur platform even more relevant in the months and years to come.