Veteran business owners are older and more educated than their non-veteran counterparts, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

"Characteristics of Veteran-Owned Businesses: 2002," the first Census report to address veteran entrepreneurs as a separate category, found that 68 percent of veteran owners  were over the age of 55, compared to 31 percent of all business owners. In addition, veteran entrepreneurs were more likely to have a postgraduate degree and more likely to have completed high school.

"You have a generation of veterans who, after World War II and Korea, had a different kind of G.I. Bill for them," said Bill Elmore, associate administrator for veterans business development at the Small Business Administration. That G.I. Bill allowed veterans to attend universities and vocational schools, and also guaranteed loans for small businesses. "There was a lot of opportunity for returning World War II and Korean veterans," Elmore added.

The lack of younger veteran entrepreneurs is in part due to the changing attitudes toward veterans in the decades following those two wars, according to Elmore. "What you also saw in the aftermath of Vietnam is sort of a memory lapse on the part of the government," he said.

However, the number of veteran-owned businesses is again on the rise. "There's been a reawakening or a real strong and growing recognition that veterans, as entrepreneurs, are a very important or even critical part of the entrepreneurial arena," Elmore said.

While the distribution of businesses by industry is similar for veterans and non-veterans, veterans are slightly more likely to be involved in construction and professional, scientific and technical services. "Military service is itself a selective process," Elmore said. "I think to a degree it's the kinds of skills that are developed and needed in military service." 

Many people enter military service because the armed forces are looking for a specific skill set, Elmore said. The Department of Defense also spends a great deal to train servicemen and women  in particular areas, which might lead them to certain professions once they leave the armed forces.

The Census report also found that more veterans than non-veterans said their businesses were not their primary source of income, especially among service-disabled veterans. However, a recent report from the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy found service-disabled veterans are less likely to be self-employed simply because of their disability.

Other attributes of veteran-owned firms, such as the number of employees and how owners initially received funding, were similar to those of all businesses.

The Census report is based on the 2002 Survey of Business Owners, the latest year for which data are available. Three million veteran business owners responded to the survey, making up about 14.5 percent of all respondents.