A Life Course Approach to the Entrepreneurial Family (Part II)

A Life Course Approach Cornell University
to the Entrepreneurial Family (Part II)

by Phyllis Moen

A Research Agenda

Taking into account timing, process, and context, the study of family business from a life course perspective becomes an investigation of pathways, of the connections between different phases of life, and how circumstances in early adulthood may affect choices and resources later on. Retirement is a case in point, with labor force experiences throughout adulthood affecting both the timing of retirement, post-retirement economic resources, and the likelihood of launching a new family business at this life stage.

Key research issues from a life course perspective include:

When in the life cycle are individuals and families apt to launch a family business? 
What is the fit between family and work responsibilities, especially in terms of the time and timing of work, but also in terms of space and other family resources? 
How does the timing of succession from one generation to the next affect family relationships and business operations? 
How do subjective assessments (such as centrality and commitment to roles and relationships) affect strategies of adaptation? 
How do objective conditions shape subjective meanings ascribed to work and family roles and relationships? 
Under what circumstances do members of entrepreneurial families experience a sense of control over their lives and destinies? 
What are the business impacts of family transitions and turning points (marriage, parenthood, divorce, caregiving of relatives, the emptying nest, etc.)? 
Conversely, what are the impacts on the family of business transitions (changing work practices, demands, opportunities, resources, and goals)? 
How do changes in the life of one family member affect other family members both in and out of the business? 
How do structural imperatives(in terms of the economic, social and policy environment) either facilitate or impede the operation of a family business? 
What situational imperatives,such as the unanticipated crises events in both work and family roles, impinge on effective functioning in both roles? 
How does the family economy adapt to changing exigencies? 
The Interplay Between Time, Process And Context
What contingencies operate as primary influences on launching, maintaining or exiting a family business? 
Do career history and current context exert separate, additive influences on the rate of entry and exit into family business? 
How do aspects of one’s prior career interact with existing structural and situational imperatives, shaping both opportunity and the motivation to begin and maintain a family business? 
How and why does a process of cumulation of advantageor disadvantage occur?

Conclusions: Entrepreneurship as a Life Course Transition

Transitions in the entrepreneurial can be viewed as a dialectical process, producing changes in both the family and the business, as well as in meanings, expectations, and motivations.There are no clear norms regarding the nature and goals of the role of the entrepreneur or his or her family.Individuals may find themselves without the structure of expectations, routines, and situational imperatives typical of “ordinary” jobs.From one perspective those who start their own business experience maximum autonomy in patterning their days, their social networks, and their work.But this autonomy can shade into anomie, a sense of purposelessness, isolation, and foreboding.

Sewell (1992, p. 16) points out that there are a multiplicity of structures shaping society and individual lives, existing and operating at different levels and in different modalities, with different logics and dynamics. Thus individuals are simultaneously members of both families and workplace organizations. And the families and, workplaces to which they belong are themselves extremely heterogeneous. This complexity and overlapping membership is especially pronounced in the entrepreneurial family, producing both uncertainty and possibility.

Fields and Mitchell (1984) remind us that not only past and present conditions but also expectations about the future enter into current decisions, because the future consequences of today’s choices affect those choices.And Elder (1992, 1995) describes control cycles,wherein individuals feel more or less vulnerable, more or less able to cope with the exigencies at hand.Both past experiences and subjective assessments of the future become important ingredients in the timing, experience, and interpretation of entrepreneurial behavior.


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