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Zipf Law and the Firm Size Distribution: a critical discussion of popular estimators

  • Giulio Bottazzi
  • Davide Pirino
  • Federico Tamagni

The upper tail of the firm size distribution is often assumed to follow a Power Law behavior. Recently, using different estimators and on different data sets, several papers conclude that this distribution follows the Zipf Law, meaning that the fraction of firms whose size is above a given value is inversely proportional to the value itself. We compare the different methods through which this conclusion has been reached. We find that the family of estimators most widely adopted, based on an OLS regression, is in fact unreliable and basically useless for appropriate inference. This finding rises some doubts about previously identified Zipf Laws. In general, when individual observations are available, we recommend the adoption of the Hill estimator over any other method.

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Paper provided by Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy in its series LEM Papers Series with number 2013/17.

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Date of creation: 12 Jul 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ssa:lemwps:2013/17
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  1. Xavier Gabaix & Rustam Ibragimov, 2007. "Rank-1/2: A Simple Way to Improve the OLS Estimation of Tail Exponents," NBER Technical Working Papers 0342, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  6. di Giovanni, Julian & Levchenko, Andrei A., 2013. "Firm entry, trade, and welfare in Zipf's world," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(2), pages 283-296.
  7. Boris Podobnik & Davor Horvatic & Alexander M. Petersen & Branko Uro\v{s}evi\'c & H. Eugene Stanley, 2010. "Bankruptcy risk model and empirical tests," Papers 1011.2670,
  8. Rafal Weron, 2003. "Levy-stable distributions revisited: tail index > 2 does not exclude the Levy-stable regime," Econometrics 0305003, EconWPA.
  9. Xavier Gabaix, 2009. "Power Laws in Economics and Finance," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 255-294, 05.
  10. Nunes Amaral, Luís A & Buldyrev, Sergey V & Havlin, Shlomo & Maass, Philipp & Salinger, Michael A & Eugene Stanley, H & Stanley, Michael H.R, 1997. "Scaling behavior in economics: The problem of quantifying company growth," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 244(1), pages 1-24.
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