Entrepreneurship in the U.S. seems to have a generational divide between members of the baby boom and millennial generations--and the numbers don't lie.

Boomers came of age in an era of few entrepreneurs and gave scant thought to starting their own businesses. Meanwhile, millennials are growing up in today's "gig economy," in which choosing independent work and launching startups are increasingly part of the norm.

These socioeconomic differences have affected each generation's views of entrepreneurship, with the younger cohort having a more positive outlook on the subject than their older counterparts.

These are just a few of the insights drawn from the seventh annual 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Report issued by Amway, one of the world's leading direct-selling companies, offering high-quality products sold exclusively by Amway Business Owners. With responses from nearly 51,000 people in 45 countries, the report reflects their opinions on entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial potential, and entrepreneurial spirit.

According to the report, 88 percent of U.S. respondents younger than 35 have a positive attitude about entrepreneurship--starting a business from scratch--compared to 80 percent of respondents over age 50. Respondents who were 35 or younger also appear to have much higher entrepreneurial potential--58 percent of millennials answered, "I can imagine starting my own business," compared to only 43 percent of those over 50.

Age also plays a role with regard to entrepreneurial spirit. For the second year in a row, the Global Entrepreneurship Report featured the Amway Entrepreneurial Spirit Index (AESI). AESI takes into account three factors in scoring a person's entrepreneurial spirit--the desire to start a business, feelings of readiness to undertake the effort, and the social impact of friends and family in possibly dissuading them from pursuing the venture.

Individuals under 35 years old scored an average 57 percent in the 2016 AESI rankings, a metric indicating their overall desire to be an entrepreneur. This compares to 53 percent for respondents over the age of 50, which is three points lower than the average AESI score for all respondents (56). The average was three points higher than the previous year's score. Internationally, the average AESI score is 50.

With regard purely to just one of the three AESI factors (desire to start a business), these percentages showed an even bigger divide. Seventy percent of respondents under 35 wished to start their own business, compared to 52 percent over 50. Other findings from the survey indicate that individuals under 35 rank "independence from an employer/ being my own boss" as the primary influence for starting a business (88 percent), whereas "self-fulfillment" is the main reason for those over 50 years wanting to do the same (77 percent).

Making sense of the numbers

The report suggests that age affects an individual's interest in launching a startup business and the reasons why in this regard. Why might this be the case?

For one thing, many baby boomer men right out of high school or college generally were expected to get a job working for other people. These expectations were similar for women, who worked in either lower-level corporate positions or "traditionally female" occupations like teaching and nursing.

Conversely, millennials grew up in a digital world surrounded by multi-billion-dollar businesses that sprang up seemingly overnight from a single person's novel idea. These entrepreneurs--Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sara Blakely, and Jeff Bezos to name a few--have become celebrities and household names. This was not the case when baby boomers came of age.

The report's findings are affirmed by an earlier report published by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) on the contingent workforce. According to the May 2015 report, the percentage of independent contractors in the U.S. workforce has grown rapidly, from 30.6 percent in 2005 to 40.4 percent in 2015.

Although the GAO does not break down the ages of the business owners, it's likely that the Gig Economy is comprised both of younger individuals eager to break out on their own and boomers who have either been compelled to pursue a second career out of economic necessity or have retired and still want to be productive.

The bottom line: Entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well for many Americans. However, millennials seem to have a greater zest for the world of business ownership, while baby boomers seem to have more interest in a different route.

Published on: Nov 14, 2016