Millennials: Not So Entrepreneurial

Earlier this month I wrote about some surprising research that suggests many millennial workers defy the slacker stereotypes and are apt to be workaholics.

ThinkstockPhotos-485914233Here’s another surprise: It turns out that millennials are shaping up to be less entrepreneurial than previous generations, too. That defies not only the general preconception about this generation, but the millennial self-image as well.

Add these findings together and we may be getting a glimpse of the future: Millennial workers, if treated right, may turn out to be more industrious and loyal to their employers than anyone imagined.

The entrepreneurship data came early this year in a study by the Small Business Administration that didn’t get as much attention as it deserved. Credit goes to the Economic Innovation Group and EY for highlighting the data in September along with results of their own survey of millennial workers. (Hat tip also to the Washington Post’s Wonkblog for reporting this first.)

millennial-entrepreneursSBA economist Daniel Wilmoth’s study, published in February, used Census data to look at self-employment rates by age for three generations: millennials (born after 1981), Gen-Xers (1963-1981) and baby boomers (1944-1962). In short, he found that self-employment rates declined for each succeeding generation (see graphic above) .

“At age 30, less than 4 percent of millennials reported self-employment in their primary job in the previous year, compared with 5.4 percent for Generation X and 6.7 percent for baby boomers,” Wilmoth writes.

Of course, self-employment isn’t quite the same as entrepreneurship. And each generation grew up in different economies, with different technology. And we don’t know what may happen as that generation ages. But I think this research provides persuasive — and surprising — insight into millennial workers.

Those of us who  — ahem — happen to be in an older generation may not be the only ones surprised. Millennials might be as well. The Economic Innovation Group survey found that 55 percent of millennials surveyed believe their generation is more entrepreneurial than those that came before.

And 62 percent said they’ve considered starting their own business. But 42 percent said they can’t afford to take that step.

Little wonder: It’s well known that millennials have higher student-debt loads that previous generations did at comparable ages, and that their entry into the job market often was hampered by the Great Recession.

So it’s not unreasonable for employers to be optimistic about millennial workers. They may not turn out to be the job-hopping, disengaged, self-centered population some have imagined. If nothing else, this number from the Economic Innovation Group survey should be encouraging: 88 percent of millennials agreed that “hard work is an important factor to get ahead in life.”