By Steven Globerman
and Jason Clemens
The Fraser Institute
Entrepreneurship is widely acknowledged as the basis for innovation, technological advancement and economic progress – and subsequently, a driving force for improved living standards. Yet there’s little discussion, let alone action, in the United Kingdom to stem the adverse effects of demographic change on entrepreneurship, specifically the aging of our population.
Most people are aware that their population is aging. The effect of an aging population on entrepreneurship, however, is not generally understood. As a population ages, the share of the population best positioned to be successful entrepreneurs – individuals in their late 20s through to their early 40s – will shrink.
People in this age group are key to entrepreneurship because they are willing to take risks to start businesses or develop new products, while also possessing business experience, which increases the likelihood of success.
Consider that the percentage of the U.K population between the ages of 30 and 39 declined from roughly 14 percent in the 1980s to roughly 13 percent today. It’s projected to decline to around 12 percent by the 2040s. Correspondingly, the rate of small business startups, a key measure of entrepreneurship, declined by 7.5 percent when comparing the six years (2001-2007) before the Great Recession to the following six years (2008-2014), the most recent data available.
And this is not a uniquely British experience. Almost all industrialized countries have seen declines in small business startups. For example, the United States experienced an 18.6 percent decline over the same period, while Australia (20.3 percent) and Canada (8.5 cent) also incurred declines.
No doubt there are a host of country-specific explanations for the varying rates of decline in entrepreneurship. However, the fact that all industrialized countries are experiencing population aging – while entrepreneurship declines – underscores the potential adverse effects of demographic changes on entrepreneurship.
While there’s little governments can do to stem populations aging, a number of policy levers are available to strengthen incentives for entrepreneurship and improve the likelihood of successful new business startups.
A recent set of essays by leading international scholars explored possible policy reforms to promote and improve entrepreneurship. They include tax relief, both in the form of reductions in marginal tax rates for individuals and businesses and reductions (or even the elimination) of capital gains taxes. These reforms were broadly determined to strengthen the incentives for people to start and grow businesses (i.e. take risks) and expand the pool of entrepreneurial capital.
Other key potential reforms include reducing red tape to make it easier to start new businesses and grow existing ones, changes to banking and financial regulations that would make it easier for entrepreneurs to access the financial capital needed to start and grow their businesses, and policies encouraging increased immigration of individuals with skills and other attributes that make them potential entrepreneurs.
Moreover, improving educational programs that help build entrepreneurial skills, and strengthening networks connecting universities to businesses and researchers in other institutions, could also increase the supply of entrepreneurial talent.
Finally, in one of the set’s more provocative essays, noted economists Deirdre McCloskey and Art Carden explored the positive effects of a culture that values and promotes enterprise and entrepreneurship, as opposed to disparaging such activities. The importance of their essay can’t be overstated given the recent anti-business rhetoric in many industrialized countries.
The policy initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship put forth by scholars in the essay series will apply to different countries in varying degrees.
It’s clear, however, that developed countries, including Britain, face a long-term decline in entrepreneurship that’s at least partially driven by demographics.
Since demographic trends can’t be easily reversed, countries must improve the environment in which entrepreneurs and businesses operate, to encourage more and better entrepreneurs and the subsequent benefits to the economy.
Steven Globerman and Jason Clemens are editors of the just-released Demographics and Entrepreneurship: Mitigating the Effects of an Aging Population available at www.fraserinstitute.org.
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