By Rieva Lesonsky
Ever since the first dotcom boom, young entrepreneurs have ruled the world. In fact, for almost 20 years, the names and faces that grab media attention are typically twentysomethings with high-tech startups. It’s gotten to the point where America relies on young people to start a business to promote the ideas, innovations and new technologies that will change our lives.
But is the Millennial generation losing interest in entrepreneurship? In a new Harvard poll of Americans aged 18 to 29, only 31 percent say starting their own business is “very important” or “one of the most important things in your life.” In comparison, more than half (53 percent) say having a stable job (even if it’s dull) is very important or “one of the most” important things in their lives.
So what do Millennials want if they don’t want to start a business? While 58 percent say having a job that benefits society is either very important or one of the most important things in their lives, Millennials in the survey understand that businesses can be socially responsible too. Just 22 percent would prefer to work for a nonprofit or for the government, compared to 50 percent who would prefer to work for a for-profit business.
What really tops Millennials’ list of the most important things in life: having time to spend with friends and family. A whopping 59 percent of survey respondents say this is one of the most important things in their lives, while 26 percent say it’s very important.
Perhaps the knowledge of how intensely startup founders have to work during their businesses’ first years of life is deterring young Americans from wanting to start their own businesses. Consider: Just 16 percent of survey respondents say they would like to work in a fledgling company, while 54 percent would prefer to work for an established firm. Or maybe they just aren’t that impressed by the young entrepreneurs often promoted as role models. Only 11 percent and 12 percent, respectively, cited Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk as people they admire.
Or perhaps it’s the hefty amounts of student loan debt they’re dealing with that make well-paying jobs and stability seem so appealing. Sixty percent say that being successful in a high-paying career is either very important or one of the most important things in their lives.Having come of age during the Great Recession, and likely seen parents and family members thrown out of work, may make entrepreneurship seem a bit too risky for a generation that’s already struggling to gain a foothold in adult life.
One interesting exception to the survey rules: The percentage of African American and Hispanic Millennials who say starting their own business is important to them was double that of whites. Fifty percent of African-Americans and 43 percent of Hispanics say starting their own business is very important or one of the most important things in their lives, compared with 24 percent of whites.
So maybe there’s a silver lining to the shift in Millennials’ interests. Perhaps the next generation of young entrepreneurs will exhibit a more diverse face than the generation currently getting all the publicity. In a world in which inclusiveness and equal opportunity are rallying cries, the more different faces entrepreneurship has, the better for all of us.