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Self-Employment in Later Life


This dissertation examines social factors shaping participation in entrepreneurial activities and self-employment in later life, and the health consequences of engaging in this form of work. Population aging and longer life expectancy are prompting worldwide responses to address issues facing older adults. In particular, structural changes in the labor market with increasing employment precarity and the retrenchment of welfare benefits stand at a crossroad with growing older populations and efforts to ensure their well-being in later life. Meanwhile, increased rate of self-employment among older adults in the US and numerous European countries reflect considerations of self-employment as an alternative work option in later life. Yet, many self-employment and entrepreneurial studies still treat younger adults as the face of the entrepreneur. In response, I focus on determinants and consequences of self-employment of older adults and move the analysis beyond individual-level characteristics. In three empirical chapters, I examine (1) how an economic crisis as a shared social phenomenon influences entrepreneurial activities and compare between younger and older adults in the US, using the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Adult Population Survey (GEM APS), (2) how greater pension spending promotes later life self-employment across European countries, using the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) 2014 cross-sectional data, and (3) how self-employment in later life, a form of continued engagement in economic activities, affects health outcomes of individuals, using the EU-SILC longitudinal data spanning four years from 2011 to 2014. By highlighting the role of social factors in self-employment participation and its health consequences, I engage with an economic embeddedness perspective (Polanyi 1957) that grounds self-employment activities in shared experiences and social locations, policies and practices, and social roles. Findings suggest that, unlike popular assumptions of older adults as risk averse, the 2008 economic crisis did not curtail older adults’ entrepreneurial activities any more than it affected younger adults’ activities. Further, countries with a larger pension spending promote self-employment among older adults by increasing their odds of being self-employed, but these policies affect lower income earners more than higher income earners. Finally, self-employment not only has the potential to serve as a bridge employment but also mitigates health declines associated with aging. Findings weave together literatures in economics, management, psychology, and gerontology and make broader contributions to our understanding of self-employment and aging premised on a sociological perspective.

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