What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger: Entrepreneurship and Recession and How The Different Generations Handle It

Going through a recession is tough on everyone; however, small business owners bare a special burden. Reduced cash flow, decreases in demand, and budget constraints all make it difficult for entrepreneurs to survive in rough economic times.

But when they do, we are eager to hear what these business owners have learned from their experience – which is precisely the point of a recent survey by American Express OPEN.


The 2013 OPEN Ages Survey is a follow-up from a 2007 survey, which looked at small business owners aged 24-35 (Generation Y) and 48-70 (Baby Boomers). The 2013 OPEN Ages Survey included interviews with 600 small business owners, defined as companies that have fewer than 100 employees. The questions focused on the impact of the recession.

Results of the survey show similarities and differences between the two generational groups, but taken as a whole, the combined wisdom can provide great insight to entrepreneurs of any age.

Some of the similarities between the two groups include: 

  • Stronger Leaders – Both Gen Y and Baby Boomers believe that they’ve become better entrepreneurs as a result of surviving the recession.
  • Better Financial Management – The recession caused both groups to change how they manage the finances of their business, and both Gen Y and Baby Boomer small business owners say they improved their financial management strategies.
  • More Creativity – Constraints can force creativity, with both groups saying that the recession made them become more creative in their marketing strategies.


The differences between the two groups found in the survey included: 

  • Caution – The recession seems to have made Gen Y owners more cautious. While 72% said they like to take risks in the 2007 survey, only 56% agreed to that statement in 2013. There was no change in the figures for Baby Boomers.
  • Passion – While Baby Boomers were drawn to becoming entrepreneurs in order to make money and be their own boss, Gen Y small business owners are fueled by passion and the desire to do what they love.
  • Social Media – Respondents from Generation Y see greater value in social media. During the recession, they increased social media usage in order to build business relationships and to increase visibility.


Insight for Entrepreneurs

Small business owners of any age can benefit by combining the insights of business owners from both the Baby Boomer generation and Generation Y.

Baby Boomers know that entrepreneurship is a great way to be independent and make money at the same time – but Gen Y adds that you have to choose something you love for the greatest results.

The recession is a particularly scary thing for Gen Y business owners who are cautious about taking risks – but Baby Boomers know that risks are part of the game, and the economy regularly cycles through highs and lows.

Finally, while Baby Boomers rely on their experience, they should – like their Gen Y counterparts – take advantage of technological trends like social media in order to boost their business in the modern era. For ideas on getting the most out of social media, stay tuned to Small Biz Technology.


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Jennifer Peaslee

Jennifer has a Masters in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame. She is currently working as a freelance writer, editor, blogger and researcher.

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