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The Missing "Missing Middle"

  • Chang-Tai Hsieh
  • Benjamin A. Olken

Although a large literature seeks to explain the "missing middle" of mid-sized firms in developing countries, there is surprisingly little empirical backing for existence of the missing middle. Using microdata on the full distribution of both formal and informal sector manufacturing firms in India, Indonesia, and Mexico, we document three facts. First, while there are a very large number of small firms, there is no "missing middle" in the sense of a bimodal distribution: mid-sized firms are missing, but large firms are missing too, and the fraction of firms of a given size is smoothly declining in firm size. Second, we show that the distribution of average products of capital and labor is unimodal, and that large firms, not small firms, have higher average products. This is inconsistent with many models explaining "the missing middle" in which small firms with high returns are constrained from expanding. Third, we examine regulatory and tax notches in India, Indonesia, and Mexico of the sort often thought to discourage firm growth and find no economically meaningful bunching of firms near the notch points. We show that existing beliefs about the missing middle are largely due to arbitrary transformations that were made to the data in previous studies.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 28 (2014)
Issue (Month): 3 (Summer)
Pages: 89-108

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:28:y:2014:i:3:p:89-108
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.28.3.89
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  1. Schivardi, Fabiano & Torrini, Roberto, 2005. "Identifying the Effects of Firing Restrictions Through Size-Contingent Differences in Regulation," CEPR Discussion Papers 5303, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Besley, Timothy J. & Burgess, Robin, 2002. "Can Labour Regulation Hinder Economic Performance? Evidence from India," CEPR Discussion Papers 3260, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  5. James Tybout, 1999. "Manufacturing Firms in Developing Countries: How Well Do They Do, and Why?," Development and Comp Systems 9906001, EconWPA, revised 10 Jun 1999.
  6. Chang-Tai Hsieh & Peter J. Klenow, 2012. "The Life Cycle of Plants in India and Mexico," NBER Working Papers 18133, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. de Mel, Suresh & McKenzie, David & Woodruff, Christopher, 2007. "Returns to capital in microenterprises : evidence from a field experiment," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4230, The World Bank.
  8. Christopher Udry & Santosh Anagol, 2006. "The Return to Capital in Ghana," Working Papers 932, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  9. Onji, Kazuki, 2009. "The response of firms to eligibility thresholds: Evidence from the Japanese value-added tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(5-6), pages 766-775, June.
  10. Henrik J. Kleven & Mazhar Waseem, 2013. "Using Notches to Uncover Optimization Frictions and Structural Elasticities: Theory and Evidence from Pakistan," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(2), pages 669-723.
  11. Rauch, James E., 1991. "Modelling the informal sector formally," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 33-47, January.
  12. Claudia Sánchez-Vela & Jorge N. Valero-Gil, 2011. "The Effect of Firm-Size Dependent Policies on the Economy: The Case of the Repecos Law in Mexico," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 80642, Inter-American Development Bank.
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