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Career Pathways toward Third-age Social Entrepreneurship

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Drencheva
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

Project Description

Third-age entrepreneurship, that is to say entrepreneurs aged 50+, has become a focus of public (e.g. PRIME) and academic debate (e.g. Gielnik, Zacher & Frese, 2012). As individuals live longer, third-age entrepreneurship has become more prevalent, representing an attractive option for some, and a necessity for others. Faced with the prospect of financial uncertainty in retirement, workplace age discrimination, and structural labour market changes, Hart et al. (2014) found that the proportion of 50-64 year-olds engaged in entrepreneurial activity has steadily increased to 7.1% (similar to the rate of the 18-29 year-olds). With older people attributing more importance to the intrinsic rewards of work, social aspects of work, and feeling valued and involved (see Kanfer & Ackerman, 2004), there are strong arguments about why those over 50 may find social entrepreneurship attractive. Consequently, third-age individuals
may find a natural home in social ventures. The involvement of third-age individuals in social ventures is significant with 7% of social start-ups led by individuals over 65 (Social Enterprise UK, 2013) and almost a third of social enterprises having a leadership team member over 65 (Social Enterprise UK, 2015).

This project aims to investigate the career pathways of third-age social entrepreneurs and the challenges, learning needs, learning practices, and desired support associated with different career pathways. Despite the growth in third-age social entrepreneurship, there is not a clear picture of how individuals’ careers shape the decision to become a social entrepreneur and the journey after the decision. Indeed beyond demographic data and research into why individuals become either third-age or social entrepreneurs (e.g. Kautonen, 2013; Yitshaki & Kropp, 2015), little is known about the heterogeneity of third-age social entrepreneurs (e.g. as a form of early
retirement or a desire to remain active after retirement, necessity due to long-term unemployment related to age discrimination in traditional organisations, etc.). Additionally, engagement in third-age social entrepreneurship is not an either/or decision, but can be a part time pursuit before or after early retirement or part of a portfolio career in later life. Yet different career pathways toward third-age social entrepreneurship can bring different types of human and social capital, while also introducing different challenges, learning needs, learning practices, and desired support. Given that social entrepreneurship is a complex and uncertain process (Battilana & Lee, 2014), whereby social ventures are less likely to become operational compared to commercial ventures (Renko, 2013), understanding individuals’ pathways toward third-age social entrepreneurship is essential to provide them with tailored and effective support. It can also contribute to the inclusive entrepreneurship agenda to break down barriers for under-represented groups, such as older individuals, to engage in entrepreneurship.

Both inductive and deductive research designs can be used to address the aims of this research project.


Battilana, J., & Lee, M. (2014). Advancing research on hybrid organizing–Insights from the
study of social enterprises. Academy of Management Annals, 8, 397-441.

Gielnik, M. M., Zacher, H., & Frese, M. (2012). Focus on opportunities as a mediator of the
relationship between business owners' age and venture growth. Journal of Business Venturing,
27, 127-142.

Hart, M., Levie, J., Bonner, K., & Drews, C.-C. (2014). United Kingdom 2014 Monitoring Report.
Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. Available at

Kanfer, R., & Ackerman, P. L. (2004). Aging, adult development, and work motivation. Academy
of Management Review, 29, 440-458.

Kautonen, T. (2013). Senior Entrepreneurship. OECD. Available at
Social Enterprise UK. 2013. The People’s Business: State of Social Enterprise Survey 2013.
Available at /uploads/files/2013/07/

Social Enterprise UK. 2015. Leading the World in Social Enterprise: State of Social Enterprise
Survey 2015. Available at

Yitshaki, R., & Kropp, F. (2015). Motivations and opportunity recognition of social
entrepreneurs. Journal of Small Business Management. doi: 10.1111/jsbm.12157.

Related Subjects

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FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.50

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