Why Aren’t Millennials More Entrepreneurial?

young businessman relaxing sitting in the office

Why aren’t millennials chasing the American Dream?

They’re a generation struggling to just stay afloat.

That’s the troubling finding of a new survey of Millennials that shows there are more would-be Dilberts than Mark Zuckerbergs among today’s young adults. Only twenty-two percent of Millennials think the “best way to advance [their] career” is starting their own business, while forty-four percent see staying at one company and advancing as optimal, according to the survey, which was conducted for EY and the Economic Innovation Group.

But that’s not because Millennials aren’t interested in starting their own businesses, whether that be a Silicon Valley start-up or yet another cupcake shop. Sixty-two percent have thought about starting their own business, according to the survey.

Yet forty-two percent don’t think they “have the financial means to start a business”—and they’re probably right. Student loans have significantly impacted the Millennial generation: “College graduates aged thirty-five and under with student loans now are spending nearly one-fifth (eighteen percent) of their current salaries on student loan payments and . . . sixty percent now expect to be paying off student loans into their forties,” according to a Citizens Bank survey released in April.

That’s not shocking given how student loans keep rising: among the seven out of ten new graduates in the class of 2016 who did borrow, most have an “average $37,172 of student debt as they enter the workforce, according to a new analysis by higher-education expert Mark Kantrowitz,” reported the Wall Street Journal. By contrast, the class of 2000, which would have included few millennials, averaged $17,296 per borrower.

Factor in other obstacles to entrepreneurship—such as onerous regulations—and it makes sense why cash-strapped millennials might think it’s not a dream worth pursuing. And perhaps a generation too often raised on praise and the gospel of self-esteem can’t handle the possibility of failing in business.

But that’s a shame.

There’s something very American about entrepreneurship, about daring to strike out on your own and to believe your idea for business will add to our society and economy. It takes guts and courage, the same kind it took for so many of our ancestors, whether recently or centuries ago, to leave their home countries and chase after the opportunities in America. It takes nerve and grit, just as it did for so many to follow the call, “Go west, young man.”

Entrepreneurship is a refusal to settle for the merely acceptable—it’s the urge that says that when you have an idea or a passion for a truly great career, a way to make life better, whether that’s for the people in your neighborhood with a new coffee shop or for people across the world with a new technology, you pursue it.

Not every Millennial needs to be an entrepreneur. But if more than six out of ten have thought about starting their own business, that’s a significant number of people who may well recognize a talent or idea they have which could enrich society.

We need to make changes to our society and laws to make it easier for all would-be entrepreneurs, particularly the bureaucratic challenges of starting a new business. We should also urge future college students to look more seriously at higher education options associated with acquiring less debt, such as public universities—or indeed, maybe not getting a degree at all, depending on your future goals.

But Millennials also should look for ways—even if it involves living on ramen for a few years after college or working long, long hours—to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. It’s tempting to a settle for a good-enough life, especially when facing steep obstacles. But it’s also quintessentially American to refuse to do so. Let’s hope more Millennials refuse.

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