How Entrepreneurial Is Generation Y?

There might be a new wave of start-ups in the offing. Or maybe not.

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"Kids today!" is the oft-heard complaint from the older generation—that kids today are lazier, more obnoxious, etc., than any previous generation. Well, that tendency might extend to positive traits, too—like being more entrepreneurial. A couple of weeks ago, author Michael Malone got a lot of attention with this Wall Street Journal op-ed about why we're about to enter a brave new world of entrepreneurship. The basic reason is that the generation Y that is in high school and college now and will be running the country soon are more entrepreneurial-minded than previous generations. Malone's supporting statistics:

The most compelling statistic of all? Half of all new college graduates now believe that self-employment is more secure than a full-time job. Today, 80% of the colleges and universities in the U.S. now offer courses on entrepreneurship; 60% of Gen Y business owners consider themselves to be serial entrepreneurs, according to Inc. magazine. Tellingly, 18- to 24-year-olds are starting companies at a faster rate than 35- to 44-year-olds. And 70% of today's high schoolers intend to start their own companies, according to a Gallup poll.

I definitely think Malone is on to something here. But I think he might be overstating just how different this generation is supposed to be. For a story of my own, I was thinking about using that last statistic about high schoolers. So I got in touch with Gallup—and it turns out they hadn't heard of it. The closest thing, they told me, was a 2004 poll that found that 57 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds said they would rather start their own business than be the head of a big corporation. So being an entrepreneur is more appealing to kids that age than being the big CEO, but that's not exactly the same as saying they "intend" to start their own companies.

What about those other stats? Well, I wonder how much they indicate a real trend. Everyone wants to be their own boss, so it seems awfully easy to tell a pollster that when asked. On the question of how much more entrepreneurial Generation Y will be, it might be best to say, "We don't know."


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