23, November 2022

Entrepreneurship by older adults in Canada.

While Canada mostly avoided the Great Resignation experienced in other jurisdictions,
we are in the midst of a Great Retirement, which is leading to staff shortages across
many industries and this is despite levels of employment engagement being back to
pre-pandemic levels1.  Will we need to entice these retirees back into the labour force
and is entrepreneurship a way to do it?

Source: Reference 1

Statistics Canada defines retirement as, “…a person who is aged 55 and over, who is
not in the labour force and receives 50% or more of his or her total income from retirement-like sources, such as the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security.”2

There are 7.3 million Canadians aged 65 and older, or about 18% of the population, most of whom are no longer working. This group is projected to grow to 12 million by 2051, representing about 25% of the population at that time. In addition, in 2021 almost 1 million people aged 55-64 are no longer working2. These older adults are healthier, richer and more educated than previous generations. An average 65 year old can
expect to live another 21 years. What this group does in “retirement” will have a major effect on the Canadian economy.
A report2 from Statistics Canada reveals more about older adults’ activities:

  • • In 2015, one in five Canadians aged 65 and older, or nearly 1.1 million seniors,
    reported working during the year. This is the highest proportion recorded since
    the 1981 Census.
    • Of the seniors who worked in 2015, about 30.0% did so full year, full time, and
    the majority were men.
    • The percentage of seniors who reported working nearly doubled between 1995
    and 2015, with most of the increase coming from part-year or part-time work.
    Increases in work activity were observed at all ages, for men and women alike.
    • Seniors with a bachelor’s degree or higher and those without private retirement
    income were more likely to work than other seniors.
    • Employment income was the main source of income for 43.8% of seniors who
    worked in 2015, up from 40.4% in 2005 and 38.8% in 1995.
    • Senior men who worked full year, full time were most commonly managers in
    agriculture; retail and wholesale trade managers; transport truck drivers; retail
    salespersons; and janitors, caretakers and building superintendents.
    • Senior women who worked full year, full time were most commonly administrative
    assistants, managers in agriculture, administrative officers, retail salespersons,
    general office support workers, and retail and wholesale trade managers.
    • Seniors in the territories as well as in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Prince Edward
    Island were the most likely to work. Those in Newfoundland and Labrador,
    Quebec, and New Brunswick were the least likely to do so.
    • Across the country, seniors living in rural areas were more likely to work than
    seniors living elsewhere.

Unfortunately, older adults do not show up in most policy reports on entrepreneurship
and one wonders why? One explanation is that the data is not collected since it is
assumed that after age 65 individuals are retired and no longer active in the labour
force. For the world’s largest study of entrepreneurship conducted by the Global
Entrepreneurship Monitor annually in over 70 countries this is the case. Thankfully,
GEM Canada is the exception, and data is collected on Canadian entrepreneurs aged

The table below shows the trends in entrepreneurial levels by age group in Canada
from 2019-2021, based upon the Canadian Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM)

Source: GEM Canada data 2019-2021

The vertical axis is the Total Early-stage Activity (TEA) rate, the percentage of the adult
population planning a new venture plus those operating one less than 42 months old.

Entrepreneurship rates among those older than 55 are lower than those aged 25-34, the
peak age to start a company in Canada. However, compared with many other countries
these are very high levels. For example, in Poland the TEA rate in 2021 for the 18-64
age group was 2.0, in Italy 4.8 and Japan 6.3, so by international standards older
Canadians are very entrepreneurial.

Another entrepreneurial activity older adults engage in is owning and managing an
existing company. The graph below shows the trend in the rate of owner managers by
age from 2019 to 2021.

Source: GEM Canada data 2019-2021

As you might expect, this shows a very different pattern to the startups, as older adults
own businesses at a much higher rate than younger adults. Older adults have had more
time to build up their businesses and make them sustainable in the long term.

There is a lot of evidence4 that working past the traditional retirement age of 65 is
beneficial to mental and physical health. Being an entrepreneur is a significant part of
this. Having a focus on encouraging older adults to become entrepreneurs should be an
important part of a program to engage older adults in economic activity. This would
have many benefits for both the individuals involved and the economy as a whole.

Peter Josty & Chad Saunders

1. Gordon, Julie (2022). Canada’s real problem is not job losses, it’s the rush to retire. Reuters Business
News, Sept 12, 2022.
2. Statistics Canada (2017). Census in Brief: Working Seniors in Canada,
3. Global Entrepreneurship Canada data 2019, 2020 and 2021.
4. Baxter, S., Blank, L., Cantrell, A., Goyder, E. (2021). Is working in later life good for your health? A
systematic review of health outcomes resulting from extended working lives. BMC Public Health. 21,
1356. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-11423-2