Into a rocking chair or Slush? – Stereotypes and structures as a barrier to entrepreneurship for women over 55


Entrepreneurship can provide a way to stay in work beyond retirement age and earn extra income if needed. However, entrepreneurship can also meet other needs, such as increasing social interaction, a sense of necessity, and the well-being of the individual. Entrepreneurship and active aging also reduce age-related discrimination and inequality. However, there are significant gender differences in setting up businesses over the age of 55. Why are men over 55 more likely to become entrepreneurs than women?

At the start of the EntreFox project three years ago, we ran into a problem; no suitable imagery was found for the website and other project material. Images found on image services with searches related to entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship returned images of people in their thirties or even younger. In the search for “+55-year-old”, grey hair and rocking chairs appeared in the pictures again.

Women over the age of 55 start businesses half as often as men of the same age

The popularity of self-employment increases with age, with 17.7% of EU citizens aged 55-64 and up to 41.3% of those aged 65-74 in employment being self-employed. Here, however, there is a marked difference between the genders; there are half as many self-employed women in this age group as men.

There are many reasons why women are less willing to start a business when they are over 55. Businesses started by women are usually in the service sector, retail, tourism, healthcare or education. Compared to male entrepreneurs, women’s businesses are often smaller, have less financial success and less growth. These factors affect, for example, the availability of funding.

Reasons given by women to become entrepreneurs include flexible working hours, job independence and a better work-life balance. This is linked to women’s caring responsibilities. At a younger age, they relate to the children and as an older person t o their own parents or spouse.

Solutions include changes in structures and attitudes

The path of women over the age of 55 to become an entrepreneur can be supported by encouraging them to take advantage of existing forms of support for entrepreneurs and by ensuring that these services are as age- and gender-neutral as possible. Ways to support these considering entrepreneurship include:

  • Increasing the skills of entrepreneurs
  • Improving access to finance
  • Business support services
  • Supporting growth entrepreneurship

It is also important to work to get rid of entrenched stereotypes in images of business services and training, for example. In addition to supporting women to become entrepreneurs in female-dominated sectors, it is important to support women’s access to traditionally male-dominated sectors. Prejudices related to self-esteem and self-image can also be a barrier to entrepreneurship. If the public image of the entrepreneur does not match one’s own perception of oneself, entrepreneurial dreams may remain in it.

The inspiration and source for this paper has been the policy brief published in the BSLF for sustainable working life project (2022). EntreFox is involved in the project.

Senior female entrepreneurship: policy responses called for to support older female entrepreneurs in the Baltic Sea Region – CBSS


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Reetta Raitoharju

Katja Heikkinen


Originally posted on the 8th of April, 2022