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Nobody's Business but My Own: Self Employment and Small Enterprise in Economic Development


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  • Douglas Gollin

    (Williams College)


In most poor countries, small firms and self employment are the dominant forms of business enterprise. This phenomenon is true not only in agriculture and the service sector: even in manufacturing, large fractions of the workforce are self-employed. In Ghana, as an illustration, more than 75 percent of the manufacturing workforce were self-employed in 1984. For rich countries, in contrast, self-employed people account for very small shares of manufacturing employment and almost negligible fractions of output. Some observers explain the prevalence of self-employment in poor countries as a phenomenon of distorted policies or credit market imperfections. This paper, in contrast, uses a variant of the Lucas (1978) span-of-control model to ask whether changes in establishment size and employment structure can be explained as a consequence of growing productivity. A model, calibrated to Japanese time series data, is shown to mimic key features of cross-country and time series data. An implication is that changes in relative factor prices, driven by changing productivity, account for a large portion of the cross-country differences in establishment size and self-employment rates. Although policy distortions and market imperfections may also be important in explaining the prevalence of self employment in developing countries, productivity changes alone could account for as much as two-thirds of the variation observed in the cross-section data.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, Williams College in its series Center for Development Economics with number 172.

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Date of creation: May 2001
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Handle: RePEc:wil:wilcde:172

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Keywords: self employment; small enterprise; small firms; entrepreneurship;

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  1. Douglas Gollin, 2001. "Getting Income Shares Right," Department of Economics Working Papers 2001-11, Department of Economics, Williams College.
  2. Gollin, Douglas, 1995. "Do Taxes on Large Firms Impede Growth? Evidence from Ghana," Bulletins 7488, University of Minnesota, Economic Development Center.
  3. Francis Teal, 1995. "Real wages and the demand for labour in Ghana's manufacturing sector," CSAE Working Paper Series 1995-07, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
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