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Income Mobility of Owners of Small Businesses when Boundaries between Occupations are Vague


  • Thor Olav Thoresen


Ownership of small businesses can facilitate upward mobility through the income hierarchy and help individuals maintain a place at the higher end of the income distribution hierarchy. This paper compares the positional stability of owners of small businesses with that of wage earners, arguing that describing the relative position of different occupations faces definitional challenges. For instance, the Norwegian dual income tax system encourages owners of small businesses to establish widely held firms, with themselves as employees, because it reduces the tax burden and increases post-tax income. Descriptions of income distribution mobility of different occupations are therefore in danger of being misleading if such occupational measurement problems are not taken into account. I discuss in this paper the income mobility of owners of small firms in Norway 1993–2003 by estimating income transition models for different definitions of occupational status. Business ownership facilitates upward mobility and helps owners maintain a place at the top of the income distribution scale, and wider definitions of what counts as a small business owner enhance these correlations. However, as the paper shows, business owners are more mobile than wage earners and therefore overrepresented at the lower and higher ends of the income distribution ranking, irrespective of definition.

Suggested Citation

  • Thor Olav Thoresen, 2009. "Income Mobility of Owners of Small Businesses when Boundaries between Occupations are Vague," CESifo Working Paper Series 2633, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_2633

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Plesko, George A., 1995. "'Gimme Shelter?' Closely Held Corporations Since Tax Reform," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 48(3), pages 409-416, September.
    2. Lorenzo Cappellari & Stephen P. Jenkins, 2004. "Modelling low income transitions," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(5), pages 593-610.
    3. Stewart, Mark B & Swaffield, Joanna K, 1999. "Low Pay Dynamics and Transition Probabilities," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 66(261), pages 23-42, February.
    4. Parker, Simon C, 1999. "The Inequality of Employment and Self-Employment Incomes: A Decomposition Analysis for the U.K," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 45(2), pages 263-274, June.
    5. Lorenzo Cappellari & Stephen P. Jemkins, 2002. "Who Stays Poor? Who Becomes Poor? Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(478), pages 60-67, March.
    6. Holtz-Eakin, Douglas & Rosen, Harvey S & Weathers, Robert, 2000. "Horatio Alger Meets the Mobility Tables," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 14(4), pages 243-274, June.
    7. Plesko, George A., 1995. "'Gimme Shelter?' Closely Held Corporations Since Tax Reform," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 48(3), pages 409-16, September.
    8. Formby, John P. & Smith, W. James & Zheng, Buhong, 2004. "Mobility measurement, transition matrices and statistical inference," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 120(1), pages 181-205, May.
    9. Robert Fairlie, 2005. "Entrepreneurship and Earnings among Young Adults from Disadvantaged Families," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 25(3), pages 223-236, October.
    10. Shorrocks, A F, 1978. "The Measurement of Mobility," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(5), pages 1013-1024, September.
    11. Barton H. Hamilton, 2000. "Does Entrepreneurship Pay? An Empirical Analysis of the Returns to Self-Employment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(3), pages 604-631, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Michael Funke & Marc Gronwald, 2009. "A Convex Hull Approach to Counterfactual Analysis of Trade Openness and Growth," CESifo Working Paper Series 2692, CESifo Group Munich.

    More about this item


    income mobility; dual income tax; income of owners of small businesses; random effects model;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • H25 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Business Taxes and Subsidies
    • H30 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - General


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