Senior entrepreneurship could curb Nigeria’s 78.8 % dependency ratio

— Close to eighty percent of Nigeria’s population is under the age of 15 or over the age of 65. This demographic implies that Nigeria’s working population of 21.2% is increasingly responsible to cover expenditure for themselves and the aging population dependent on them.
With life expectancy on the rise in Nigeria, and as the 7th most populous country in the world, work and employment opportunities will become more critical. A new report from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) argues that there is significant evidence that entrepreneurs aged 50 and above can offer economic, social and environmental benefits for economies wrestling with aging (dependent) populations and that the challenge for policy makers is therefore to find better ways to support and enable them. 

GEM’s Special Report on Senior Entrepreneurship spans almost a decade’s worth of research, citing examples from developing economies where citizens over the age of 50 have played a significant role in contributing to their economies.

According to the 18% of adults between the ages of 50 and 64 and 13% between the ages of 65 and 80 worldwide are self-employed compared to just 11% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29. Eighteen percent of “middle-aged” entrepreneurs (aged 30 to 49) are self-employed.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of senior entrepreneurship worldwide in terms of entrepreneurial intention and early-stage entrepreneurial activity, at 35% and 19% respectively. Latin America and the Caribbean comes in second with (27%/14%), followed by the Middle East and North Africa (23%/7%) and the European Culture Countries (6%/4%). 

“Entrepreneurial success and prosperity has no age limits,” said Mike Herrington, Executive Director of GEM, whose report draws on data collected between 2009 and 2016 on entrepreneurial activity among more than 1.5 million people spread across 104 countries. “While the traditional perception of entrepreneurship is that it is a young person’s endeavor, the data are showing us that, in many aspects, older people are a significant entrepreneurial force. But this segment is largely an overlooked and undervalued resource.”

The numbers related to Sub-Saharan Africa are consistent with GEM findings that entrepreneurship levels are typically higher in factor-driven economies where the types of businesses started often require lower skills and less money to get off the ground.

According to Thomas Schøtt, Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern Denmark and lead author of the report, senior entrepreneurs bring with them a host of benefits – economic, social and environmental – that the report labels “golden dividends”. These include relieving pressure of an ageing population on the state and job creation. 

“Every older adult who is self-employed is less likely to place a financial burden on society and to contribute to the economy of that country through the payment of taxes and by remaining economically active,” he said. “Additionally, senior entrepreneurs are marginally more likely than their younger counterparts to employ more than five people so they are not only creating jobs for themselves but for others as well.” 

Additional economic benefits come from fact that senior and older people who act as informal investors also tend to invest considerably more money compared to younger adults. Almost two thirds (63%) of older business angels worldwide invest more than the median of all investments. And elderly entrepreneurs across all phases of entrepreneurial activity report substantially higher levels of satisfaction with both their life and their job, compared to elderly routine employees. This translates into better health and fewer demands being placed on social service/entitlement programmes.

Schøtt added that these findings have particular significance for economies struggling with the perceived burden of an ageing population. “With approximately 16% of the world’s population 55 or older, the issues of entrepreneurial activity at these more advanced ages directly affect more than a 1.2 billion people,” he said. “The world is beginning to understand how senior entrepreneurs with their wealth of work and life experience, deep networks, and eagerness to remain productive are a huge untapped resource.” 

According to a 2015 report by the United Nations, 4.5% of Nigerian citizens are over the age of 60 and this is projected to increase to 6.3% by 2050.

“It is time that we stopped thinking about this demographic as a liability and instead recognise them as assets and work across sectors to help break barriers and unleash their potential. It’s imperative for governments to create innovative, inter-agency frameworks to marshal resources, catalyze strategic thinking, prioritize new policy and create actionable research to advance this movement.”