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Aging Well

Older Women Self-Employed by Necessity

Older women most often turn to self-employment because of financial need while older men typically choose self-employment. That is the sobering but not surprising finding of research done at the University of Missouri in Columbia. The study will be published in the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare in March 2014.

A release from the university written by Diamond Dixon quotes lead author Angela Curl as saying, “Gender is one of the most enduring social factors in the U.S. and New Zealand, a fact that is particularly evident in differing economic opportunities for men and women and their decisions to be self-employed.”

The release explains that Curl and colleagues analyzed survey data from the 2010 Health and Retirement Study of U.S. adults and the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Aging and found that men in each country were more likely than women to be self-employed. Curl said this result could reflect a greater willingness of men to take on risks associated with self-employment, a larger savings to buffer business losses or failures, or more opportunities for men to engage in entrepreneurial ventures.

In both countries, female workers who were self-employed appeared to have fewer economic resources, were less likely to receive pensions and were less likely to have employed spouses. These findings may suggest that older male workers may choose self-employment whereas women may be forced into self-employment because of financial necessity, according to Curl.

“The results seem to suggest a complex interplay between cultural norms and retirement policies in the two countries,”Curl said. “Self-employment may help older adults remain productively engaged in society and should be encouraged.”

Curl said legislators and business leaders could create policies that promote flexible work situations such as those offered by self-employment, which encourage and enable older adults to continue working later in life.

“American policymakers could reduce barriers to self-employment by offering and promoting small business loans for start-up costs,” Curl said. “If older adults delay claiming Social Security benefits, remain in the labor force and continue paying taxes, some of the pressure on the Social Security retirement system would be reduced.”

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