Policy

Some Entrepreneurs Are Happier Than the Rest of Us. Which Ones?


Are entrepreneurs happier than employees? Research points both ways, which makes intuitive sense. The ability to control their own destinies (and schedules) sounds great; it probably is, when business is good. But having to choose between making payroll and replacing expensive equipment makes entrepreneurship seem a stressful way to make a living.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an annual study that tracks entrepreneurial activity worldwide, took a more rigorous look at the happiness question (PDF) in research published today. This year’s study, based on a poll of 197,000 people across 70 countries, included a portion designed to measure subjective well-being measured by respondents’ agreement or disagreement with such statements as “the conditions of my life are excellent” and “if I could live my life again, I would not change anything.”

Here are three of the study’s findings on happiness among entrepreneurs:

Entrepreneurs are happier, on average. Not surprisingly, subjective well-being varies across world regions. Sub-Saharan Africa is the least happy region, according to GEM, while Latin America and North America are the happiest. In all regions surveyed, the average happiness of early stage entrepreneurs and established business owners was higher than the average happiness of adults not engaged in entrepreneurial activities.

The type of entrepreneurship matters. People driven to entrepreneurship by economic necessity are less happy than those who launch businesses to seize opportunity. This sounds like common sense, but it bears noting in the context of high rates of entrepreneurship in “factor-driven economies” (those driven by low-skilled labor and natural resources). In sub-Saharan Africa, 69 percent of respondents were highly optimistic about the opportunities for starting a business. The positive outlook toward entrepreneurship didn’t lead to happy entrepreneurs.

Gender matters, in differing ways. Women entrepreneurs in Zambia had the second-lowest happiness score among any group studied. (Opportunity entrepreneurs in Zambia were lowest.) Women were happier than men among early stage entrepreneurs in innovation-driven economies such as that of the U.S., where sustaining high wages is dependent on new “products, services, models, and processes.”

Clark is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek covering small business and entrepreneurship.

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