What’s the ideal age for a CEO? Maybe older than you think

Silicon Valley’s idolization of smart young upstarts is misguided, according to a fascinating meta-analysis of 102 studies of entrepreneurs. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) found that people who launch businesses in their 50s have greater financial success and higher satisfaction levels than younger entrepreneurs.

Notable findings:

  • Older age is mildly associated with more entrepreneurial success. The data suggests that older entrepreneurs have more capital, connections, and wisdom, while younger entrepreneurs are more adept at inventing new technology.
  • Women entrepreneurs grow particularly more successful with age. “Our findings suggest women should not give up too readily, because their chance of success increases as they move to later life stages, and their perseverance ultimately tends to pay off,” says coauthor Hao Zhao, an associate professor of management at RPI.
  • 30s and 40s are not the ages to start a business. More success comes to twentysomethings and fiftysomethings. The researchers concluded that midlife is a challenging time to start a business due to childcare and eldercare obligations, noting that entrepreneurs do not typically have parental leave or daycare benefits. “Although it is generally commendable to pursue one’s entrepreneurial aspiration, we suggest that early midlife individuals carefully evaluate all of the resources at hand and take a realistic view of this career path before taking the leap.”
  • Older entrepreneurs have larger firm sizes, more financial success, and more subjective success, though lower growth rates–which the researchers note is likely due to the average larger sizes of their companies.
  • Age has no impact on whether or not a company survives.

“Correcting people’s negative stereotypes about older entrepreneurs, and encouraging people at later life stages to engage in entrepreneurship, is important,” Zhao said. “The United States has an increasing population of older adults that have skills and knowledge valuable to society. This study helps to illustrate their strengths.”

Zhao hopes that governments and incubators will formally foster the entrepreneurial efforts of older adults.

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