The responses of self-employed aged 55+ to COVID-19 crisis in Finland
exploring the role of older age in exogenous shocks
Self-employment is a vital part of Finnish economy. Almost 70 % of business owners in Finland are self-employed. In 2019 there were according to Finnish Statistics 187 000 self-employed persons in Finland out of which 80 000 were women and 107 000 were men. (StatFin). Self-employed persons are defined as those who are engaged in economic activities on their own account and at their own risk. Self-employed can be self-employed with employees or without employees, such as own-account workers or freelancers. A person acting in a limited company, who alone or together with his/her family owns at least one half of the company, is counted as self-employed. (Statistics Finaland: Concepts) The reasons of becoming a self-employed are many. In a study, 42% of Finnish self-employers said they had become self-employed after being unable to find a paid job (Kokkonen & Tönnes Lönnroos 2015) Older age cohorts are increasingly encouraged towards employing themselves (Tomlinson & Colgan 2014; OECD 2012). At the same time, prolonging work careers is a shared concern and the ideologies of Lifelong Learning and Active Aging have spread over Europe (Walker 2008).
Since the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Finland in January 2020, the entrepreneurs were facing an exogenous shock. An exogenous shock can be defined as a sudden event beyond the control of the authorities that has a significant negative impact on the economy (Geithner, 2003). Since March 2020, the Finnish Government declared a state of emergency and several measures to slow down the virus were implemented. Such measures included closing of schools, limiting gatherings, and making other restrictions.
Also measures to support the economy and companies were taken. The main objective with most of the measures was to save jobs, while support for self-employed or persons starting their business was weaker. Small business are fragile to large shocks and shutdowns. In a study of Bartik et al. (2020) small business with more than $10,000 expenses in the United States were found to have liquidity only to survive two weeks in a case of mandatory shutdowns. Small business are especially vulnerable due to their economic situation, dependence on a few customers and fluctuating incomes. (Giones et al. 2020)
The target group of this study: the +55 self-employed are vulnerable for exogenous shock in multiple ways. First, as a self-employed the economic situation and financial buffer might be lower. Second, due to their age and proximaity to retirement, they might lack the motivation and resources to restart a business or make large adjustments to it. Third, the actions taken by the Finnish government and other agencies to prevent bankruptcies and to revive economy have been more targeted to save jobs not to support the self-employed.
The objective of this study is to explore what kind of responses self-employed aged 55+ have had to the exogenous shock of COVID-19. We hope to contribute to the discussion about the entrepreneurial actions in uncertainty and the role of age in it. We wish to add to the discussion about the measures to support +55 self-employed when facing an exogenous shock.
The data for the study was collected in three group discussion sessions with self-employed aged 55+. The informants were part of a funded project that aims at increasing the productivity and well-being of entrepreneurs aged 55+. The data was collected as notes during the discussion and was then analyzed by two researchers.
The results indicate that for many self-employed the business stopped totally in spring 2020. We classified the response mechanisms for the shock into three categories 1) positive responses, such as enjoying more free time, getting a push to re-educate oneself or starting a new business, 2) neutral, such as waiting the situation go by and 3) negative, such as feeling hopeless and benumbed and not seeing possibilities or opportunities, even building the feelings of bitterness. Age was brought into discussions as an explanation for why not to take actions, for instance start virtual business. Age (and experience) was, however, also helping some informants to see that “things come and go” and that the situation will probably be better in the future.
Bartik, A. W., Bertrand, Z.C., Glaeser, E. L., Luca, M. and Stanton, C. (2020) The impact of COVID-19 on small business outcomes and expectations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jul 2020, 177 (30) 1756-1766
Giones, F., Brem, A., Pollack, J. M., Michaelis, T. L. Klyver, K. and Brinckmann, J. (2020) Revising entrepreneurial action in response to exogenous shock: Considering the COVID-19 pandemic.
Journal of Business Venturing Insights Vol. 14, November 2020
Geithner, T. (2003). Fund assistance for countries facing exogenous shocks (p. 1-87). Available on line:
Kokkonen, V. & Tönnes Lönnroos L. (2015) Finland: Spotlight on self-employed persons without employees. https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/publications/article/2015/finland-spotlight-on-self-employed-persons-without-employees
OECD (2012) Policy brief on senior entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial activities in Europe. Available at: https://www.oecd.org/cfe/leed/EUEMP12A1201_Brochure_Entrepreneurial_Activities_EN_v7.0_accessible.pdf
StatFin Tilastotietokanta www.stat.fi Accessed 26.1.2021
Statistics Finland: Concepts. Available at https://www.stat.fi/meta/kas/yritlkm_en.html Accessed 30.11.2020
Tomlinson, F. & Colgan, F. (2014) Negotiating the Self Between Past and Present: Narratives of Older Women Moving Towards Self-Employment. Organization Studies. 35. 1655-1675
Walker, A. (2008) Commentary: The Emergence and Application of Active Aging in Europe. Journal of Aging & Social Policy, 21(1), 75-93