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Measuring microenterprise profits: Must we ask how the sausage is made?

Author

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  • de Mel, Suresh
  • McKenzie, David J.
  • Woodruff, Christopher

Abstract

A large share of the World's poor is self-employed. Accurate measurement of profits from microenterprises is therefore critical for studying poverty and inequality, measuring the returns to education, and evaluating the success of microfinance programs. However, a myriad of problems plague the measurement of profits. This paper reports on a variety of different experiments conducted to better understand the importance of some of these problems, and to draw recommendations for collecting profit data. In particular, we (i) examine how far we can reconcile self-reported profits and reports of revenue minus expenses through more detailed questions; (ii) examine recall errors in sales, and report on the results of experiments which randomly allocated account books to firms; and (iii) asked firms how much firms like theirs underreport sales in surveys like ours, and had research assistants observe the firms at random times 15-16 times during a month to provide measures for comparison. We conclude that firms underreport revenues by about 30%, that account diaries have significant impacts on both revenues and expenses, but not on profits, and that simply asking profits provides a more accurate measure of firm profits than detailed questions on revenues and expenses.

Suggested Citation

  • de Mel, Suresh & McKenzie, David J. & Woodruff, Christopher, 2009. "Measuring microenterprise profits: Must we ask how the sausage is made?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(1), pages 19-31, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:deveco:v:88:y:2009:i:1:p:19-31
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo, 2007. "The Economic Lives of the Poor," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(1), pages 141-168, Winter.
    2. Lisa Daniels, 2001. "Testing alternative measures of microenterprise profits and net worth," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 13(5), pages 599-614.
    3. Suresh de Mel & David McKenzie & Christopher Woodruff, 2009. "Returns to Capital in Microenterprises: Evidence from a Field Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(1), pages 423-423.
    4. de Mel, Suresh & McKenzie, David & Woodruff, Christopher, 2008. "Mental health recovery and economic recovery after the tsunami: High-frequency longitudinal evidence from Sri Lankan small business owners," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(3), pages 582-595, February.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    O12 O16 C81 C93 M41 Microenterprises Underreporting Measurement Evaluation Survey methods Poverty;

    JEL classification:

    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • O16 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Financial Markets; Saving and Capital Investment; Corporate Finance and Governance
    • C81 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Methodology for Collecting, Estimating, and Organizing Microeconomic Data; Data Access
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • M41 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Accounting - - - Accounting

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