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The entrepreneurial earnings puzzle: Mismeasurement or real?


  • Åstebro, Thomas
  • Chen, Jing


A review of recent evidence on relative earnings from entrepreneurship versus wage work presents a puzzle: why do individuals become entrepreneurs when entrepreneurs on average apparently earn less than employees? After considering several potential explanations, we empirically analyze one: income underreporting by entrepreneurs. Using a nationwide panel survey representing U.S. households over 15years, we estimate that entrepreneurs on average earn 4% less per year than employees. However, after correcting for income underreporting, the mean financial gain to entrepreneurship is positive and large, greater than 42%. However, we show that this estimate is built on some unpalatable model assumptions.

Suggested Citation

  • Åstebro, Thomas & Chen, Jing, 2014. "The entrepreneurial earnings puzzle: Mismeasurement or real?," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 88-105.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jbvent:v:29:y:2014:i:1:p:88-105
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jbusvent.2013.04.003

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    Cited by:

    1. Xi, Guoqian & Block, Jörn & Lasch, Frank & Robert, Frank & Thurik, Roy, 2017. "Mode of Entry into Hybrid Entrepreneurship: New Venture Start-Up versus Business Takeover," IZA Discussion Papers 11104, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. T. H. Gindling & Nadwa Mossaad & David Newhouse, 2016. "How Large are Earnings Penalties for Self-Employed and Informal Wage Workers?," IZA Journal of Labor & Development, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 5(1), pages 1-39, December.
    3. Alina Sorgner & Michael Fritsch & Alexander Kritikos, 2017. "Do entrepreneurs really earn less?," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 49(2), pages 251-272, August.
    4. Hazarika, Bhabesh, 2017. "Decomposition of Gender Income Gap in Rural Informal Micro-enterprises: An Unconditional Quantile Approach in the Handloom Industry," Working Papers 17/216, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.
    5. Bublitz, Elisabeth & Nielsen, Kristian & Noseleit, Florian & Timmermans, Bram, 2015. "Entrepreneurship, human capital, and labor demand: A story of signaling and matching," HWWI Research Papers 166, Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI).
    6. Halvarsson, Daniel & Korpi, Martin & Wennberg, Karl, 2016. "Entrepreneurship and Income Inequality," Ratio Working Papers 281, The Ratio Institute.
    7. Nadia Simoes & Nuno Crespo & Sandrina B. Moreira, 2016. "Individual Determinants Of Self-Employment Entry: What Do We Really Know?," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 30(4), pages 783-806, September.
    8. repec:eee:jeborg:v:145:y:2018:i:c:p:275-293 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. van Praag, Mirjam C. & Raknerud, Arvid, 2017. "The Returns to Entrepreneurship: Evidence from Matched Person-Firm Data," IZA Discussion Papers 11018, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    10. Zoltan Acs & Thomas Åstebro & David Audretsch & David T. Robinson, 2016. "Public policy to promote entrepreneurship: a call to arms," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 47(1), pages 35-51, June.
    11. Gindling,T. H. & Mossaad,Nadwa & Newhouse,David Locke, 2016. "Earnings premiums and penalties for self-employment and informal employees around the world," Policy Research Working Paper Series 7530, The World Bank.
    12. Dawson, Christopher & de Meza, David Emmanuel & Henley, Andrew & Arabsheibani, Reza, 2015. "The Power of (Non) Positive Thinking: Self-Employed Pessimists Earn More than Optimists," IZA Discussion Papers 9242, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    13. repec:spr:jahrfr:v:38:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s10037-017-0114-y is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Thomas Astebro & Holger Herz & Ramana Nanda & Roberto A. Weber, 2014. "Seeking the Roots of Entrepreneurship: Insights from Behavioral Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 28(3), pages 49-70, Summer.
    15. Konon, Alexander, 2015. "Personality traits, subjective learning, and entrepreneurial decision making," Annual Conference 2015 (Muenster): Economic Development - Theory and Policy 112805, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    16. Horemans, Jeroen & Marx, Ive, 2017. "Poverty and Material Deprivation among the Self-Employed in Europe: An Exploration of a Relatively Uncharted Landscape," IZA Discussion Papers 11007, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    17. Marcus T. Wolfe & Pankaj C. Patel, 2016. "Grit and self-employment: a multi-country study," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 47(4), pages 853-874, December.
    18. Konon, Alexander, 2016. "Career choice under uncertainty," Annual Conference 2016 (Augsburg): Demographic Change 145583, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    19. Arvid Raknerud & Mirjam van Praag, 2014. "The entrepreneurial earnings puzzle. Evidence from matched person-firm data," Discussion Papers 789, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    20. Failla, Virgilio & Melillo, Francesca & Reichstein, Toke, 2017. "Entrepreneurship and employment stability — Job matching, labour market value, and personal commitment," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 32(2), pages 162-177.
    21. Thomas Åstebro, 2017. "The private financial gains to entrepreneurship: Is it a good use of public money to encourage individuals to become entrepreneurs?," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 48(2), pages 323-329, February.


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