Understanding the relationship between ADHD and entrepreneurialism

How childhood ADHD-like symptoms predict selection into entrepreneurship and implications on entrepreneurial performance’

The success of entrepreneurs with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) such as Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad reflects the positive link between the behavioural condition and entrepreneurialism.

But while the impulsive and hyperactive behaviour often associated with ADHD can be positive when creating business ideas and getting an enterprise off the ground, new research shows that other behaviour frequently associated with the ADHD – inattentiveness - can contribute to lower earnings over time.

In this study, academics from the universities of Leeds and Sussex used data from a long-term survey which tracked different aspects of individuals’ lives at the ages of 10, 32 and 42.

This included people who at the age of ten were found to have symptoms particularly associated with ADHD and measuring the extent to which different symptoms – inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness - affected their employment and earnings in adulthood.

The research showed that people who had symptoms associated with ADHD in childhood were up to 6% more likely to go on to own their own business.

But modelling also showed a link between the levels of inattentiveness shown at an early age and average earnings in adulthood.

While those who displayed ‘medium-level’ symptoms of inattentiveness earned an average salary of just over £29,000 at the age of 42, for those with levels of inattentiveness which was around 50% higher, earnings were an average of £2,100 lower at the same age.

Dr Nasir Rajah, Research Fellow in Health Economics at the University of Leeds, who led the study, said: “This research highlights the importance of early childhood behaviour on later life outcomes”.

Co-author Nick Williams, Professor of Enterprise at Leeds University Business School, said: “While the link between ADHD and entrepreneurialism is established, and having the condition can be a real benefit when it comes to starting your own business, much less is known about how the different symptoms of ADHD – inattentiveness, and hyperactivity – affects people’s professional lives over time.

“This research is the first to track the fortunes of a larger number of people over a longer period and confirms that while hyperactivity can be positive in getting a business off the ground, inattentiveness can contribute to lower earnings over time.”

Co-author Professor Vassiliki Bamiatzi from the University of Sussex Business School said that the research has important implications for policy-making. She said: “While a direct positive link between entrepreneurship and economic performance is often assumed, behavioural issues such as ADHD can severely hamper this link, and this is a reality we can no longer ignore”.

She added: “With our study indicating that education is a key factor against the negative associations of ADHD, careers advice provided in universities should place particular emphasis on young people with ADHD to help them understand the benefits and challenges that they might face when starting a business.”


Professor Nick Williams is available for interview. Contact: Guy Dixon, Media Relations, Leeds University Business School on: g.dixon@leeds.ac.uk

‘How childhood ADHD-like symptoms predict selection into entrepreneurship and implications on entrepreneurial performance’ is published in the Journal of Business Venturing. A copy is available on request.