Funding: German Scientific Foundation (DFG, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft)
The expression “mature entrepreneur” used in the proposal’s title possesses a twofold meaning. Mature in the sense of chronological age (such as 50+), and mature in terms of life and work experience, as well as social, human and (often) economic capital. This research explores a basic question about how individual and institutional conditioning impacts on the process of making of mature entrepreneurs. The thesis proposed here is that the entrepreneurial motivations and activities of older adults are outcome of a dynamic and reciprocal relationship between their personal and occupational life paths on the one hand, and societal and structural feedback received from institutional (formal and informal) actors on the other hand. The project suggests a dynamic and temporal approach to studying this process. It aims to incorporate into the research design, both: an analysis of past transitions and trajectories, as well as individual’s future plans and projections. For theoretical reasons therefore, this project adopts a life co urse analysis as the most appropriate tool to tackle this question due to the following reasons. Firstly, what marks out mature entrepreneurs from young ones is their diverse life experience and the accumulation of social, human and often also economic capital, which are of critical importance for setting up a business in older age. Secondly, the life course perspective allows a study of the shifting patterns of modern life courses (such as de-standardization or de-institutionalization), as well as the nexus between the occupational and private biographies of individual actors. Moreover, the project looks also at the role of experts (from state, NGOs and private sectors) as those actors, who influence not only the policy making in the area of mature entrepreneurship, but also the construction of images and narratives about them.
The research methodology adopted in the project is an integrative qualitative approach, where in-depth interviews with older entrepreneurs and experts are carried out in two countries – Germany (West and East) and Poland. They represent diverse approaches to mature entrepreneurship and life courses due to differences in welfare regimes, what allows for cross- and intra-country comparisons.
The research will contribute in an innovative way to the study of mature entrepreneurship in ageing societies in the context of contemporary academic and political debates about the alternative models of economic activity of older adults. Moreover, the project aims to provide empirical evidence for studying the variations in modern life courses and their institutional embeddedness.