People with difficult childhoods are more likely to become entrepreneurs

Among successful businessmen and entrepreneurs there are many those whose childhood was associated with deprivation.

Recently, the hypothesis that difficultiesexperienced by a person in his early years, contribute to his enterprise, was confirmed by Professor Ivan Png and associate professor Chu Junhong from the Business School of the National University of Singapore, as well as their colleague Professor And Junjiang from the National School of Development, Peking University. The scientists published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Test a hypothesis

“There has been a long-standing debate about whether entrepreneurship is the result of nature or nurture,” comments Professor Png. “Perhaps difficulties make people more entrepreneurial, or only those who were entrepreneurial were able to overcome difficulties. Our
research complements this debate by examining what mechanism is at work.”

Since the researchers could not track the events that happened to a group of any volunteers throughout their lives, they decided to analyze the situation with the so-called Great Famine that took place in China between 1959 and 1961 and associated with the decision of the authorities to direct agricultural resources to cities in production and export purposes. The uneven redistribution of resources has led to food shortages in different regions of the country.

There are more future businessmen among the hungry!

After examining data from China’s 2005 mini-census, including those concerning people with entrepreneurial status, as well as financial data on Chinese households for 2013, experts tracked the correlation with the year of birth. They were interested in those who were born before 1962 and lived in their hukou (national household registration system) county for five or more years.

It turned out that in districts where the famine was more severe, there were many more people who, in their mature years, took up entrepreneurship. According to one of the authors of the study, Chu Junhong, “this showed that the growth of entrepreneurship was, at least in part, driven by difficulties.”

gender factor

True, among those who survived a hungry childhood, there were significantly more male entrepreneurs than women: as many as 4.9% of men and only 1.9% of women from the sample owned a business or were self-employed.

Professor Yi Junjian says:

“Gender differences may be related to the Chinese social norm – women are more focused on housework, and men are more focused on work outside the home. In addition, when husbands choose riskier professions, wives tend to choose relatively less risky jobs.”

Going forward, the experts intend to quantify how hardship can increase entrepreneurial motivation, and whether changing social norms around gender roles could encourage more women to start their own businesses.

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