14/1/16: Push or Pull: Entrepreneurship Among Older Households

Recently, I highlighted some of the potential problems relating to the less stable nature of the Gig Economy employment, including the longer-term pressures on life-cycle savings and pensions, as well as health care provision (you can see my discussion here: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.ie/2015/12/71215-cx-future-of-work-summit-dublin.html and my slides here: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.ie/2015/11/111115-gig-economy-challenge.html.

Mainstream economics has been lagging behind this trend, with little research on the long-term sustainability of the Gig Economy employment. Thus, it is quite heartening to see some related, albeit tangentially, research coming up.

One example is a very interesting study on entrepreneurship amongst the U.S. older households. Weller, Christian E. and Wenger, Jeffrey B. and Lichtenstein, Benyamin and Arcand, Carolyn, paper titled "Push or Pull: What Explains Growing Entrepreneurship Among Older Households?" (November 30, 2015: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2697091) does what it says: it looks at both push and pull factors for entrepreneurship and self-employment amongst older households.

Per authors (italics are mine): "Older households need to save more money for retirement, possibly by working longer. [Which is a pull factor for self-employment and  entrepreneurship]. But, the same labor market pressures that have made it harder for people to save, such as increasingly unstable labor markets, have also made it more difficult for people to work longer as wage and salary employees. [Which is a push factor toward self-employment and entrepreneurship].

Self-employment hence may have become an increasingly attractive alternative option for older households.

Entrepreneurship among older households has indeed grown faster than wage and salary employment, especially since the late 1990s.

But, this growth, rather than reflecting rising economic pressures, may have been the result of growing financial strengths – fewer financial constraints and more access to income diversification through capital income from rising wealth. Our empirical analysis finds little support for the hypothesis that growing economic pressures have contributed to increasing entrepreneurship. Instead, our results suggest that the growth of older entrepreneurship is coincident with increasing access to income diversification, especially from dividend and interest income. We also find some tentative evidence that access to Social Security and other annuity benefits increasingly correlate with self-employment. Greater access to interest and dividend income follows in part from more wealth and improved access to Social Security may reflect relatively strong labor market experience in the past."

This is an interesting result, because it is based on older households' access to:

  1. Income from savings and wealth, including assets wealth; and
  2. Income from retirement.
In the Gig Economy, both are likely to be compressed due to higher income volatility (and thus rising precautionary savings), tax incidences that impose liability with a lag (inducing higher income uncertainty), and lower earnings (due to lack of paid vacations, maternity/paternity and sick leave). In some cases, e.g. countries like Ireland, there is also an explicit income tax penalty for the self-employed (via both lower standard deductions and higher tax rates, such as those under the USC). All of which implies reduced access to income from retirement in the future, lower savings and wealth (including through inheritance). 

Subsequently, the current cohort of older entrepreneurs and self-employed may exhibit exactly the opposite drivers for their post-retirement employment choices than today's younger cohorts. And that matters because entrepreneurship and self-employment that start with push factors (e.g. necessity of life and constraints of the labour markets) is less successful than entrepreneurship and self-employment that start with pull factors.